I have been a model only one documented time in my life. For a brief moment during my internship with Southern Living — when I wasn’t ironing napkins, thinking of a clever way to describe meatless main dishes or driving a flower delivery van full of photo props — I held a bowl of salsa for a spread in the Christmas At Home magazine. You can only see my hands in the picture, and I’m pretty sure they’re blushing, so the fact that I’m about to make my debut on the international catwalk is just one more thing to add to the file I’m calling “Only in Bangladesh.”
I could lie and say that my agreement to sashay down a red carpet with music by Lady Gaga blaring in the background is due to some giant miscommunication where I thought I was actually saying “No” in Bangla. But the truth is, I’ve met some amazing people here who have reminded me of the oft-repeated but rarely activated “Life is short” approach to opportunities and challenges. And so I willingly said yes to this invitation to embrace, celebrate and perhaps even find my femininity in too-high heels with my friend Leah, some local university students and a small group of incredibly strong women from the Acid Survivors Foundation.
The fashion show is a fundraiser for this organization, which is dedicated to supporting victims of acid violence and ending these horrific, heartless acts in Bangladesh. Acid attacks, which occur at least every two days in the country, are often the result of a young woman turning down the sexual advances of a male or rejecting a marriage proposal. Family and land disputes, dowry demands or a desire for revenge also have been cited as reasons for this violence, which causes catastrophic physical and psychological damage.
As part of its work, ASF has set up a Fashion Design Training House to offer survivors the opportunity to develop livelihood skills through vocational training. In the fashion show tomorrow night, we’ll be wearing clothes that were made by women involved in the program. Some acid survivors will even be modeling the pieces.
ASF’s fashion design program is called “Projapoti,” which means “butterfly” in Bangla. In a press release, the organization tells this beautiful story about the philosophy behind choosing this name:
“During the process of silk making, the silkworm cuts itself off from all that could disturb her. In the cocoon, only her mental powers are present, which she uses to undergo a metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. Acid survivors draw back from society to recover and become physically and mentally strong before they reintegrate into society. With the help of this project, they can develop themselves, become economically independent, regain their self-confidence and like a butterfly spread their wings and fly out.”
To say that sharing a runway with these women will be an honor for me is an understatement. I’ve gained a life-changing perspective on what it truly means to be beautiful and persevere. Bring on the high heels, Bangladesh.
*** 12/14/09 UPDATE: Pictures from the show.