[EXCLUSIVE] Cindy Bishop Speaks Up About Empowerment And #DontTellMeHowToDress
Text And Interview Lina Esa Photography Shavonne Wong Assisted By Steven Foo Make-Up Benji Oo & Xuan Styling Violet Foo Assited By Renee Latiff Additional Images Instagram
How do you dress? There are so many factors that influence the way a woman dresses that the same feedback loop surely doesn’t apply to similar-minded males. When a Thai newspaper article suggested that women cover themselves to avoid sexual harrassment, Cindy Bishop couldn’t believe it — and she did not take it sitting down.
As an industry insider, this model, mentor and overall veteran in the scene knows all about how models and women get treated, and has used social media platforms to transform that. #TeamCLEO catches up with the Asia’s Next Top Model host and gets the scoop on flipping mindsets and letting women know their worth.
Hi Cindy, thanks for speaking to us! What have you been up to the past few months?
Well, apart from my usual work in front of the camera and on the runway, I’ve recently launched an online course on how to maintain work-life balance and time management. I’m also starting to do a lot of speaking engagements on the subjects of women’s rights, empowerment and confidence building for various international organisations.
Let’s look at the past Asia’s Next Top Model (AsNTM) cycles — how would you say this cycle has been compared to the past?
Every cycle is different, because with each new line-up of contestants we get a whole new energy. The girls last year were all amazing with some very unique personalities. We shot in Thailand, which was a new location, as well as some interesting format twists, which the fans seem to love so I’d say overall, pretty good cycle!
We’re very inspired by your #DontTellMeHowToDress campaign — how did it start?
It was sparked in a heat-of-the-moment reaction I had to a newspaper article suggesting women cover themselves up to avoid sexual assault in the Thai New Year, Songkran. I recorded a clip of me speaking out against what I consider to be unjust and unequal treatment of women in society, and at mindless victim-blaming and accepted attitudes towards sexual misconduct, assault and violence against women.
I created the hashtag #DontTellMeHowToDress, which has now become a proper social movement in Thailand and has gained international media attention as our answer to #MeToo. Since then I’ve teamed up with UN Women and local NGOs to create an exhibition showcasing victims clothing at the time of their assault, and other activities including self defense workshops, online content and an upcoming women’s march. I was been invited to take my initiative to the Philippines, which was very exciting.
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Honored to be one of the storytellers in a series of #equalitytalks hosted by @unwomen to mark 16days of activism against gender-based violence. Thank you for giving me the stage to share my journey as founder of the #donttellmehowtodress movement and thank you to all the other amazing and brave women who told their powerful stories. These are painful but necessary conversations to have in order to end the cycle of violence against women and girls. Because this is an issue that affects every single one of us in some way. We all have the power to make a difference. It’s in the words we speak, how we listen to and how we treat each other that determines the narrative of the future. #16daysofactivism #16days #unite #genderbasedviolence #norapeculture #novictimblaming #orangetheworld #metoo #timesup#hearmetoo
Cindy up on stage, speaking up about this really important issue
In an age where women are getting their voices heard via social media and things like the #MeToo movement, do you see a shift in mentalities or is it still waiting to happen?
I do see a shift. If anything, I see more women taking to their own platforms to speak up and speak out against gender bias and even sharing their own stories of harassment and assault which will only help to empower other women to do the same. At the same time we still have a long way to go to shift the current attitudes of the traditional patriarchal society to one that fosters gender equality and mutual respect.
As women we’ve all been told what to wear, what to do or how to act based on social conventions. Has there been any one moment (or moments) that has personally occurred to you which made you go “Hey, this is ridiculous!”?
Yes, a few times. Most recently, because I’ve come out with this campaign, I’ve had some comments such as “Well, you’re a model, you’re used to dressing that way.” — as if skimpy and revealing clothes were the only thing I ever wear in my line of work. Or that because I choose to show my body and my face in the media, I am cheapening myself somehow. But I think, every woman has felt or heard that in some way or another in her lifetime, especially those of us who live in Asia. We are expected to conform to the conservative norms of what it means to be a “good girl”.
“I see more women taking to their own platforms to speak up and speak out against gender bias and even sharing their own stories of harassment and assault which will only help to empower other women to do the same.”
While we all wish for change in mindset, do you think it will ever happen, especially in a region like South East Asia?
I think it has to start somewhere and by inspiring, educating and mobilising individuals, communities, businesses, law enforcement and governments, we can strive towards establishing a society in which mutual respect, consent and responsibility prevail.
Knowing what you know and with your extensive experience, what advice do you have for women trying to make it in the modelling industry?
Believe in yourself and know your worth. This industry can be tough, with plenty of criticism and rejection, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 25+ years is that when one door closes another will open. If you truly love what you
do, you’ll always find a way to be successful!
Under #DontTellMeHowToDress, what would be your number one advice to young women about building their confidence?
True confidence always has to come from within. I’d say start with the things you are comfortable with and are good at and build from there. And try to be aware of how you define confidence. As with beauty, how you express confidence is not the same for everyone. You don’t have to be bold and loud to be confident, but rather be authentic, know who you are and what you stand for.
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Everything I am today I owe to this woman right here! My mama. ❤️ One of my biggest cheerleaders in everything I do. She raised me to be independent, motivated and never give up on my goals. She’s the first person to show me what feminism is all about! Because she never once limited me in any way or said I couldn’t or shouldn’t do something because I was a girl. Thank you for that and thank you for always being by my side. Love u Mama.