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

From the time we are born women are judged by our looks, but that doesn’t mean we should just accept objectification as a given, fashion designer Norma Kamali says.

In fact, she says, it’s time to challenge the universal behavior, and for women to be empowered by their experiences and begin to redefine the ideas of beauty. Kamali, 67, has created Hey, Baby, a short film calling for social change. She also has launched the website Stop Objectification, where women can upload photos, post empowering statements and share stories.

“This process will help cleanse and free yourself of the secrets you are keeping of humiliation and embarrassment as a result of objectification,” Kamali tells MORE. “When we read each other’s stories, we will uncover more of our own experiences that we have hidden in very deep emotional places, and then we can get men to read the stories and listen to the women in their lives tell their stories, and start to expand the awareness.”

MORE spoke with Kamali recently about her campaign, how it relates to fashion and self esteem and what she hopes awareness of objectification will accomplish. An edited version of the interview follows.

MORE: After spending all this time in fashion, what prompted you to take on the objectification of women as a social cause? Some would say the two are closely related.
Norma Kamali:
Fashion tells women we are not pretty enough, thin enough or rich enough to wear real fashion and that is only one type of objectification that impacts self-esteem and image for women. Sometimes, fashion can empower people and really enhance a woman, but fashion and the image of it can also make her feel less than she should. So, there’s this fine line for me because I am a part of the fashion industry and I am one of these people who tells women I want to empower them and make them feel better. But at the same time, there may be images that our industry projects that tell her you have to look a certain way or live a certain lifestyle to really be fashionable. The objectification part of that is what I’d like to get women to talk about so we can understand better what is causing these self-esteem issues.

MORE: Have you always had this concern?
NK: Since I began in 1967, I have been profoundly aware of the fact that all women suffer from self-esteem issues. We all can be thrown off by a bad hair day or feeling a little overweight. So where does this come from? I have deducted, after interviewing countless women around the world, that it is objectification. If we cleanse ourselves by sharing the stories, freeing ourselves of the secrets, we can heal ourselves and have a healthy, more vibrant self image. And, when we share the stories with friends and family, we encourage other women to do the same.

MORE: When does objectification start?
NK: From the time we’re little girls, almost at  birth, everyone is prompted to comment on how we look. So, as women, we’re always judged first by how we look, and our accomplishments are received in second place, but also are tempered by the way we look. I think profoundly of how Hilary Clinton, during her campaign for presidency, was often talked about how she looked first, and then what she was saying. … Women are objectified and men, in fact, are not. It’s specific to women, it’s universal. This is clearly one thing all women share. Not every woman has a child. Not every woman has the same lifestyle experiences. But every woman, from a very young age until the last day of her life, experiences objectification.

MORE: So, how do we start to stop it?
NK: I am telling stories now that I had held secret because I was humiliated and embarrassed, and thought, I just want this to go away. Well, it doesn’t go away. It’s an insidious little thing that piles up as more and more of these experiences exist for us and they affect who we are and how we behave.

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