Written by Rhea Ong Lee-Huey.
In a special interview with Marie Claire’s Fashion Writer, Ai Lim, Cindy Bishop discussed the development of her movement among other topics. The multi-talented model is best known for her role as a host and judge in Asia’s Top Model. She started a powerful movement called #Don’tTellMeHowToDress in 2018 which solidifies her role in empowering women everywhere.
Ai Lim: Can you tell me a little bit about the movement that you are championing right now—how did you come to start it and why do you think it’s important to you?
Cindy: #Don’tTellMeHowToDress came from a reaction I had to a newspaper article in Thailand in March of last year where it says ‘Don’t dress sexy’, the part where it tells women as their one solution to curb sexual assault and harassment during Songkran Festival. It triggered memories of the time I was assaulted during Songkran, even though I was wearing long jean shorts, a baggy t-shirt, and it was broad daylight with my friends. I remembered I felt how unfair that that’s the only solution they had to it. So, I picked up my phone and just recorded a rant, basically, then I posted it and I didn’t think much of it. It was Fashion Week so I did a show and then I came back later, and my friends were like, “Cindy, your clip has gone viral”. Then, I realized this is a great opportunity to really talk about this issue, which apparently has hit a nerve with a lot of women. My hashtag, within days, had not just captured Thai media, but global media attention.
Ai Lim: Because you’re a mother, how do you think parents can start educating their children?
Cindy: Start as early as you can. Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about their gender, respect, and what it means to have a healthy, happy relationship. It can be an uncomfortable topic, but you’re the parent. If you can’t talk to your children, who’s going to talk to them? If you can’t create that safe space where they can come to you about any questions or anything that’s happened, then, that’s a very scary prospect to me as a mother. I want to be able to guide my children or at least answer the difficult questions. That means taking the responsibility as a mother and you need to do your research.
Ai Lim: As a parent to both a boy and a girl, do you find that you teach them differently when it comes to what their rights are and what empowerment means to them?
Cindy: No, not at all. I feel that it shouldn’t be different. In fact, we need to be talking to our boys a lot more. We spent so much time teaching our daughters how to dress and how to protect themselves, and we’re using words like “Boys will be boys”. I hate that. My son, 6 years old, he can explain the concept of consent, crystal clear. He uses a cookie analogy. He says, “I’ve got the yummiest cookie. I want you to have it, but if you don’t want it, I can’t force you to eat it. Because maybe you think you’re allergic or full, or maybe you just don’t want to eat it. I can’t force you.” It’s simple and it doesn’t have to be scary. You don’t have to go into the details of the actual sexual act. Consent just means respecting somebody and not forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.
Ai Lim: This leads on to my next question, how do you think men can contribute towards this cause?
Cindy: First of all, this cause is not a feminist cause. The issue of women’s rights is a human rights issue and we can’t just do it on our own. We need men and some of the biggest champion and supporters I’ve had in my life are my father and husband. If you’re a father, show your son what it means to be a true gentleman and how to treat a woman with respect. Let’s start from there. You don’t have to go and join a big campaign bandwagon, just start treating people in your life with respect, especially the women.
Ai Lim: As women, how do you think we can empower other people?
Cindy: I think it starts with every single person being authentic with who they are. We live in a society where everyone is trying to be perfect, or trying to be a certain way so that society will accept them, instead of owning who they are as individuals. People are becoming perfectionists because we’re constantly comparing ourselves to a perfect picture of somebody, and we forget that it’s edited. The more you do that, the more you look at yourself as not good enough, not successful enough or not pretty enough.
Ai Lim: So, would you say that social media has a negative impact on empowering women?
Cindy: It’s an amazing tool and it’s done amazing things for empowerment. You need to have awareness when you use it. I think younger women, in particular, use that as a way to check and see how they fit in and aspire to be that.
Ai Lim: Can you describe empowerment in three words? Or at least what it means to you.
Cindy: I am me.