Anthropologist takes the plunge

February 21, 2003

As a Moscow University anthropology graduate, Russian model Inna Zobova had impeccable academic credentials to lecture at Rome's La Sapienza University.

The black diaphanous blouse she wore to deliver a paper at last week's conference on form and style in the expression of love at the university's sociology and communication department failed to conceal other credentials that have established her as the icon of the European Wonderbra advertising campaign.

Her talk on the history of the bra as a tool of seduction was supported by contributions from several academics on aspects of the communication of emotions and feelings.

But sociologist Mario Morcellini, whose research project on the topic was funded by Wonderbra producer Playtex, admitted that there had been some hostility about the theme of the conference from senior academics at La Sapienza.

"I don't care about disapproval from other academics," Professor Morcellini declared. "Love, affection, sex and friendship, and the relative forms of communication are of essential interest to university students. Moreover, the sociological aspects are evident. For instance, with text messages young people express themselves with a totally new vocabulary, and this may well reflect a new way of thinking about these issues.

"Also, since funding for the research project was not forthcoming from the normal channels, I feel perfectly justified in having accepted the offer of €6,000 (£4,000) from Playtex. We have extra funds and Playtex has the prestige of being associated with university research."

The conference was crowded with students, press photographers and TV crews, attracted by an official invitation that detailed Ms Zobova's measurements (85-60-90cms and 1.79m tall). Many students and academics present seemed undecided as to whether to take the pre-Valentine's Day proceedings seriously or dismiss them as a stunt.

Stefania Di Mario, a communications researcher, said: "I like the challenge to university orthodoxy. This is not a corruption but an example of courage. And in any case, you can't do research without money, and if the money comes from a bra manufacturer, why not?" Professor Morcellini said that some academics had turned down their invitations to the event, but added: "I don't think all this is unworthy of a university. I believe there are no issues that a university should not tackle. The expression of affection and love cannot be taboo, and it deeply touches the evolution of individual behaviour and social changes."

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