Norma Kamali on Her New Campaign to Empower Women

The 67-year-old fashion designer wants to be the catalyst for social change

by Lesley Kennedy • Reporter
norma kamali
Norma Kamali wants to stop the objectification of women.
Photograph: Courtesy of Norma Kamali

MORE: Can you give an example of a time you were objectified?
NK: I graduated fromthe Fashion Institue of Technology. I was a fashion illustration major and I had worked very hard on my portfolio, I had an incredible instructor, I felt very confident about my work and thought going for a job was going to be an exciting opportunity for me to use my skills. Plus, my mother kept impressing upon me every day that I had to get a job. So, my first job interview: I walk into this office and there’s a guy and he’s got his feet up on the table, and he’s eating a tuna sandwich, and he says to me, “Young lady, why don’t you put your portfolio down there and turn around for me.” I was 18, and, quite frankly, I was frozen. I didn’t know what to do. I heard my mother’s voice saying get a job, and so I turned around. And as I was turning around, I was sick to my stomach. I was embarrassed and humiliated. I was so upset and I stayed absolutely quiet. I can’t tell you a word the guy said or what happened, except that I knew as I was in tears leaving that office and that I was never going to go back into a situation like that again.

I did not tell that story until six months ago, but by getting my stories out, I’m positive it will help me and other women. I really believe the more conversations we have with each other, the more we’ll help each other. And what could be better than women who are more and more empowered every day? We’ll make better wives, better partners, we’ll be much stronger. We will be more invincible because we won’t be able to be taken down so easily by things that are really not important. … If we want to buy $2,500 bags it will be because we just made partner and got a big bonus, not because we feel less in ourselves and our bag is going to give us more credibility than we deserve.

MORE: Have you found commonalities in the stories being shared?
NK: Every woman I’ve interviewed and I speak to has issues with food. Every woman. There’s something wrong with that. … I’ve learned in last few years that the way I looked at food and the way I measured my happiness was controlling how I felt about myself, and it wasn’t until I understood that if I ate healthier, I wouldn’t be as addicted to food. I would be able to eat whenever I was hungry, rather than whenever I was anxious. I discovered that the better the food was, the more I could eat and feel good, versus the more I ate, the more I felt bad about myself. That took a lot of time for me. I was 65 when I figured it out.

MORE: How does the way we dress affect our empowerment?
NK: Clothing can help self-esteem, but it is temporary because sooner or later we take off our clothing. The way we dress says a lot about what we think of ourselves -- therefore, what we want others to think of us. But, ultimately, our actions and accomplishments affect our empowerment.

MORE: What ares some actions women can take to improve their body image?
NK: Take positive action. Start with the emotional release of the stories, then take another action to cleanse the body, as well. Remove sugar and highly processed foods. Exercise every day if you can in some way and find a cause or community activity where you can help others. By helping others you fill your soul, and what a better place to put a full soul then a cleansed body.

MORE: What changes do you hope to see in our lifetime?
NK: If all men understand the effect of objectification we experience in relationships and dating, in the office and a simple walk down the street, they will be the force of change. We just need to let them know what we experience every day.

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