April 2011

Endangered Species Buenos Aires: The First Step

Any Body"Finally, something's being done for us - normal women - thank you for taking on the challenge!" - Marlenne Montenegro

"At the beginning of the event I wasn't convinced but I am leaving convinced." - Anonymous Argentine woman

"This has never happened before in this country … from our early education we have been given physical models to follow and adhere to and each of us have incorporated [that message] but is it NOT healthy. Thanks to each of you in this group for having created a space where we can identify. Finally!" - Lu Lix

On March 16th at the Cooperative Cultural Centre in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires, the Any-Body Buenos Aires team officially launched the Endangered Species campaign in Argentina, which featured varied presenters, short films, theatrical acts and workshops devoted to raising awareness, educating the public and challenging the existing and harmful beauty norms to which the country adheres.

Highlights included presentations from Claudia Selser, an Argentine journalist who has written extensively about the body image and eating disorder problems that plague children, teens and women throughout the country; Miriam Tawil, a Brazilian author and therapist who explored the modelling industry and how young girls in poverty are scouted and groomed to fit the supermodel mould; Jennifer Barreto-Leyva, a well- known Venezuelan plus-size model who recounted the discrimination and prejudice she has endured and overcome through activism; and Dorina Vidoni, a respected Argentine designer who reinforced the need for designers to create clothing for various types of bodies instead of having women alter their bodies to fit one standard size – skinny.

In addition to exposing the realities of the beauty myth and providing strategies to move beyond it, Especies en riesgo de extinción shone a light on the lack of fashionable clothes available for average-sized teens and women. The largest size most non-speciality stores in the capital carry is about size UK 8/10, which leaves approximately 70% of Argentine women hard-pressed to find stylish clothes that fit, despite the size laws that exist to combat the problem. Our event acted as the first step in dialoguing with both the public and the fashion industry in how to combat the problem.

Susie Orbach stated in her opening remarks at Endangered Species in London that "our aims are not modest. They are ambitious." In Argentina, our goals have proven to be formidable. The planning involved in creating such an inspiring and educational day often made our team of five women feel like minnows in a tsunami. Many Argentine popular designers and clothing brands would not become involved without the support of an internationally recognized brand. Others feared being associated with "gorditas" or "fatties" despite our focus on the every-day Argentine woman. Average-sized women were often embarrassed to reveal that they can't find clothes in their size. The roadblocks thrown in our path underscored the importance of presenting a healthy alternative for Argentine girls and women and we are so glad we did. During and after the event we received a wealth of positive feedback and multiple sighs of relief from women who hadn't realized they were actually normal.

For that reason alone, we deem our event a success. Did the clothing stores we invited attend? No. Would we have liked to see more women take part in the day? Yes. Did the mainstream media outlets we formally invited show up? No. Despite the disappointments, Especies en riesgo en extinción undoubtedly made a positive impact. And the one-day event was only the beginning.

Our team has identified three clothing retailers in Buenos Aires that we believe are making substantial efforts to comply with the municipal size law: Levi's, VER and Portsaid. In order to support these stores' compliance with the law we are offering them a woman-friendly sticker that they can display in their store windows, which sends the message to consumers that they care about the health of Argentine women by stocking the range of sizes mandated by law. Furthermore, we recognize that our campaign requires increased visibility, thus we are in the process of planning various public and interactive events geared towards not only Argentine adolescents and women but also children and their parents.

As we move forward, our team acknowledges that realizing our objectives will be a slow and onerous task. But we are fully committed to initiating and following through with much-needed action plans necessary to release Argentine girls and women from the stronghold of the Western beauty ideal. One baby step at a time.

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