The value of raising awareness about significant women’s health issues was never more apparent than in 2014 when Grammar’s Pink Day produced the moving installation of a human pink ribbon on the pool lawn. Reflecting on that Pink Day event, Service Captains, Amy Hancell (2014) and Eugenie Smith (2014), called upon students to ‘show empathy and care and to use their skills and passion to assist others’. (BGGS Magazine, p.20, 2014.)
Girls Grammar has had a long-standing connection with breast cancer support through Pink Day. However, the increasing success of the national pink campaigns and the growing national statistics for the silent diseases that are gynaecological cancers was becoming more apparent. This was a significant health issue affecting the lives of our own Grammar families and friends. Thus, the demand for research into better diagnoses and treatment options for these silent killers, along with the ongoing importance and understanding that our students must take responsibility for their ongoing self-care became a new priority. It seemed appropriate that the White Lady could take over from the pink ribbon to become a potent figure of hope, grace, and empowerment.
This shift developed into the inaugural day to raise awareness and funds for ovarian cancer in 2015. This day started with the appearance of a White Lady outline appearing around the School on pathways and walls, courtesy of our corflute white lady stencil. This is a simple but recognisable chalk symbol that has symbolised our hopes for that day ever since.
The other event was an installation of White Ladies on the Pool Lawn. Students had the opportunity to contribute their own smaller cut-out of this White Lady, inscribed with a personalised message of hope. The view from the CLC was evocative and, to reinforce the impact, students removed their ties as they added to a growing sea of white ladies.
The White Lady of 2015 represented the necessity for awareness about ovarian cancer and Grammar girls’ pledge to help fight for a cure. The stencilled outline and messages confronted students around the School and the installation cut a magnificent form until the automatic sprinklers came on at 12 noon!
The White Lady and White Blouse Day were thus established as a major aspect of the School Service program. Since then, the White Lady and the symbol of the stark white blouse with no tie, have reminded the Grammar community of the importance of maintaining self-care, including regular screenings for gynaecological cancers, nurturing relationships with those we trust, and appreciating the need to support medical research into diseases that can have significant and, at times, traumatic and far-reaching impacts on our lives.
Chalking a message on the wall or the paving, writing on a small white lady shape, and removing a tie may seem very simple gestures but, by doing so in a display of whole school solidarity, the simplicity of the messages and the white blouse has a huge impact. The stark whiteness of the blouse without the so-familiar tie is a constant reminder of the meaning of the day. Similar to the Witchery White Shirt campaign, our unadorned white blouse also symbolises the lab coats worn by the researchers dedicating their lives to improving outcomes for ovarian cancer patients.
In 2016, the School joined with the Cherish Foundation, an organisation that funds research for better diagnoses and treatments for women with gynaecological cancers. Chase Becker (daughter of a Cherish Board member) provided a video of her personal experience when she received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer at the age of 14. The impact of a message from someone so young was powerful and resounds even in 2022: get to know your body and how it works, understand what is normal for you, take notice of any changes, be willing to talk to a trusted adult about any concerns you have, and most importantly, be proud of your body.
Thus, in 2016 White Blouse Day focused on what each student cherished about her health, her relationships, and her life. Each student pinned her White Lady, along with a personal message, to her blouse, and, as has become tradition, removed her tie for the day. The effect was reinforced by the number of staff, including the Principal, who also wore white blouses and shirts.
The impact and beauty of the White Lady and White Blouse Day installations are made more significant by the number of students who come forward each year to record the names of loved ones whose lives have been impacted by cancer. Names and personal messages are written on the White Ladies, and previously sometimes on white balloons.
In 2018, the whole school made origami white blouses following a demonstration on Assembly by Tung-Hi Ma (11H), then a Year 7 student.
In 2022, our White Lady stencil stands in the window of the Service office, overlooking the Year 12 tables, a reminder of the need to nurture positive relationships with ourselves and others every day. This year our White Lady is progressive and sustainable. While the need for more research into less invasive treatment options, better diagnoses, and greater awareness are all still paramount, she now also promotes greater knowledge of sustainable feminine hygiene products which is why, in 2022, the White Lady will be created from recycled paper from the School copy machines.
The 2022 theme of Know Your Body would be appreciated by the White Lady. As a symbol, she will reach out to capture each student’s imagination, providing a lasting memory of the significance of these important health lessons. When each Grammar girl removes her tie, sees a stencilled message, or writes on her White Lady, it is hoped that she will not only develop empathy and understanding for those who are managing illness but also learn to be comfortable with her personal boundaries and to be willing to reach out to trusted adults in times of uncertainty.
Ms Lynne Mungomery
Director of Service and Year 10 Co-ordinator
Brisbane Girls Grammar magazines: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019.