Karolina Montes, 16, and Zoë Balestri, 17, are students at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx in New York City. And when it was time for the two to come up with a project for their school’s annual fashion show, they knew they wanted to do two things: Find a way to work together on a project, and design something that — as Montes tells Yahoo Beauty — has “more meaning than just being a dress after what’s been happening this past year.”
The annual fashion show requires students to display artwork using nontraditional materials, and Balestri explains that as soon as the two thought of doing something in support of Planned Parenthood, they knew, “That’s it.”
Balestri explains that she and Montes got a grant from their school to purchase materials from Planned Parenthood, and also contacted the reproductive and sexual health care provider about their project and desire to buy materials in addition to what the school grant covered. The teens bought thousands of Planned Parenthood stickers, and the organization also sent the them pamphlets, additional stickers, pins and — of course — condoms.
Using Planned Parenthood stickers, signs, and condoms, combined with shower curtains, PVC piping, hot-glue guns, tape, and staples, the two young women created their show-stopping gowns.
The bra top of Balestri’s gown, in fact, was created by sewing together packages of condoms by hand.
“When I walked down the runway, I think some people thought it was funny that I was wearing condoms on the top, but I think it was a great way to bring people out of their comfort zones a little bit, and de-stigmatize something that shouldn’t carry any stigma at all,” she said.
Montes says that one of their main motivations in creating the Planned Parenthood gowns was to educate, especially because students in fifth through 12th grades attend the annual event.
“In fifth grade, I didn’t really know about Planned Parenthood and what was going on with the government,” Montes said. “But with this current administration, we knew we needed to somehow be involved, and this was one way.”
Adds Balestri, “A huge part of our project was just about being young women and showing we can take action and showing what happens when young women take action. We wanted to use our voices to show what Planned Parenthood does for women’s reproductive rights, for abortion rights, for all the things they do to help young mothers.”
She continues, “It really saddens me that the idea of shutting down or defunding Planned Parenthood is even out there. [Montes and I] are both strong believers in being pro-choice and women having control over their bodies and everything Planned Parenthood supports. It’s really important that young women get involved so we can continue to have our reproductive rights.”
Echoes Montes, “We thought our dresses could help shift the conversation from all the negative comments going around about Planned Parenthood and all the stigma surrounding it. Just by bringing it to the table via art, we could get people talking and make it something relatable to youth.”
And people are definitely talking. On Wednesday, Planned Parenthood posted a picture of the two in their gowns on the group’s Instagram page. In less than 24 hours, the photo has already garnered 25,000 likes and 315 comments — including one from none other than Miley Cyrus, who wrote, “Best ever.”
“You can’t anticipate that kind of reaction,” says Montes. “We’re not trying to show off, but just celebrate art and hard work.”
Balestri notes that there’s no prize for the school fashion show, and it’s not a competition.
They hope other young people will be inspired by their hard work to take similar, artistic action themselves.
“Don’t be afraid to get out there and really fight for what you believe in, in any medium,” Montes says she would tell other young people — and young women especially. “Activism doesn’t just come from rallies or speeches — it comes from everyday things, whether that be music or art or poetry. Activism can stem from what you’re best at or what you’d like to improve in.”
Says Balestri, “Involvement in politics isn’t black and white. Coming into this as young women and participating in the conversation is so important, for young women and for every young person with strong opinions. This is our time. This is a time when people need a voice. So I would tell people to not be afraid to stand out a little bit. We stood out in a big way — I walked down a red carpet in front of my whole school wearing condoms!”
And Montes says she and Balestri aren’t from done when it comes to their art and their activism.
“It’s not like, ‘O.K., we did this, that’s it. We got what we wanted,'” she explains. “If anything, it’s just been a reassurance about what we can continue to do. And if two girls from New York can do something that so many people love, then anyone can do anything. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to be speaking about this. Just educating people about what Planned Parenthood does is really important to us, letting people know that they have that resource available to them if they need it — and that it’s at risk right now. And that trying to fight for the right to access that resource is important.”
As Balestri puts it, “I just want to thank Planned Parenthood for the work they’ve done for 100 years. That’s amazing — they’ve been doing this for 100 years. And we’re going to keep supporting them however we can, and we’re always going to continue to be a part of their conversation and their work.”
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