What’s hot on the runways for spring?
If the fashion show held at Liverpool Community Church this weekend is any indication, it’s loving your body, no matter what size it is.
LCC played host to “Revolutionizing the Runway,” which kicked off Ophelia’s Place’s new “got beauty?” campaign. The center for eating disorder education and support in Liverpool is trying to get Central New Yorkers to redefine beauty in order to reduce the societal pressures that can lead to eating disorders.
“We don’t feel we have an option, but we do,” said Mary Ellen Clausen, founder and executive director of Ophelia’s Place. “We can negotiate how we see beauty, how the world sees beauty. We can make a change.”
Clausen founded Ophelia’s Place in 2002 after watching both of her daughters battle eating disorders. Since that time, the center has helped thousands of people through the same struggle.
Now, Clausen is looking to change the way the world defines beauty in order to eliminate the cultural pressure to be thin.
“Revolutionizing the Runway” was the first step in that campaign. The fashion show, held Sunday afternoon, featured models from AMS Models as well as Ophelia’s Place staffers and family members and showcased fashions from Target and Boom Babies. Hosted by international plus-size model Emme, the show included men and women of all ages, sizes and body types.
The show marked the culmination of nearly two years of planning. Clausen said the idea was borne out of a conversation with AMS owner Anne Marie Stonecypher at least a year and a half ago.
“We met through a mutual friend and we were just talking, and Anne Marie said, ‘I need to do something, what can I do to help you?'” Clausen said. At the time, Stonecypher’s daughter was 10 or 11. “So we started batting ideas back and forth.”
During the conversation, Stonecypher made a comment that struck a chord with Clausen.
“She said, ‘I almost hate to tell people what I do,'” Clausen said. “She said, ‘They automatically associate modeling with Hollywood and vanity and this pursuit of perfection. But all of my models are different shapes and sizes — it’s a very diverse group.'”
And with that comment, lightning struck; a fashion show seemed a logical way to point out the fact that all models aren’t stick thin. It was also a great way to kick off the new campaign.
Looking under the skin
When Emme, a longtime Ophelia’s Place board member, heard about the fashion show, she happily jumped on board.
“The meaning of the show is that there’s more to us than what we see,” Emme said. “It’s about who we are and what we contribute to the community. That’s what’s beautiful.”
Emme had nothing but praise for Clausen, whom she called “a powerhouse.”
“I wish all of us could have a Mary Ellen in our lives,” she said. “She truly moves mountains.”
Emme, a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, recently completed chemotherapy for leukemia, but did not hesitate when asked to host the show.
“Emme has always tried to be involved with us,” Clausen said. “She agreed to host right away.”
Clausen noted that both Emme and Stonecypher were very gracious, allowing Ophelia’s Place and the show’s organizers plenty of time to get things ready.
“Originally we were going to have the show in the spring [of 2007],” Clausen said. “Then it was the fall — October — and, even though she was still going through chemo, Emme wanted to host. But we decided it would just be too much for her, so we moved it to February.”
Clausen was also grateful to Stonecypher for getting some of the Ophelia’s Place staffers to model for the show.
“Originally, they all said, ‘Oh, no way are you getting me on that runway,'” Clausen said. “But Anne Marie had them all excited by the time of the show. She told them it’s not about your size or how you look; it’s about how you carry yourself, your confidence. It’s from the neck up, not your body or your size.”
The show went off without a hitch, something that surprised Clausen.
“So much went into it,” she said. “So much could have gone wrong. But it’s like God had orchestrated every minute of the day. It was perfect.”
The show went so well, in fact, that Clausen thinks it might become an annual event.
An annual show reminding people that models come in all shapes and sizes should go a long way toward redefining beauty in Central New York. That’s the focus of the new “got beauty?” campaign at Ophelia’s Place, and it was a hot topic at the fashion show Sunday.
“We need to change the way we define what is beautiful, and change starts with you,” Emme said, addressing the nearly full house in attendance at the show. “Too often we point the finger at society or boyfriends or husbands or whatever and say that’s the root of our body issues. But it’s time to focus on ourselves. We need to stop letting ourselves be influenced. The revolution starts with us.”
Clausen said that the center has been inundated with phone calls and e-mails from people across the community who saw the show and were touched by it.
“Everyone was so inspired and encouraged,” she said.
Hopefully, Emme said, they will translate that inspiration and encouragement into action and speak up and bring about a new understanding of what beauty is.
“When we use our voice,” she said, “only then will we see change.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.