IF you're a regular movie goer, chances are you've spotted Joanna Bender: often dressed in a brightly coloured tutu and adorned in flowers, she's pretty hard to miss.
The manager of Chinchilla Cinema, every Wednesday Joanna thoughtfully chooses her outfit before heading off to work, in a bid to help brighten her day as well as those of people she meets with what she has coined Tutu Therapy.
"It's a big thing for me to do this because I'm not normally comfortable being the centre of attention, but I feel so strongly about why I'm doing it and I've been really encouraged by a few personal messages I've received from people saying 'Please don't stop, I look forward to this every week',” Joanna said.
As a little girl, Joanna learnt ballet but it wasn't until earlier this year she decided to indulge her life-long love and since then, her project has become known among cinema-goers as Tutu Wednesdays.
As well as being the Tutu Lady, Joanna is known around town for being involved in the local arts scene and she was recently nominated for a Queensland Community Achievement Award for customer service for her patronage of Chinchilla Cinema over the past eight years.
She recently directed the production, The Sheep from Kogan Creek, after starring in the original play 12 years ago, and has just completed a Diploma of Interior Design.
"I don't know where the creativity comes from, it's something my parents always fostered in me and I learnt ballet and piano when I was young and it's just something that was always encouraged and I guess I showed an interest in it,” she said.
"My mum made me the most beautiful tutus growing up, she made the most beautiful costumes and it was really lovely,” Joanna said.
"Mum can't really see much any more and she can't hear that well.
"I was able to communicate to her a few weeks ago what I was doing, that I'm wearing a tutu and she just thought it was lovely.”
Tutu Wednesday was inspired by Joanna's own need to brighten her days while going through a personal struggle but she soon discovered her style was infectious.
"I was looking at them online but thinking where would I ever wear a tutu? I'm known for overdressing anyway so one day I thought 'why not? If I want to wear a tutu then I will!' From the moment I put it on I felt amazing; it's all about choices and freedom to be yourself without being restricted by the views and opinions of others,” she said.
"You can't not smile when you're wearing one and it makes everyone smile which is so important... it helps people see the bright side of life.
"It's so important for people to not lose themselves to please others, you can get yourself to a point where it's too deep and it's too hard to find yourself again. If you want to wear the tutu, wear the tutu if it gives you joy, and other people's joy? That's just a bonus.”
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