Toronto orchestra vocalists outraged by 'fat shaming' email from management

Performers who have worked with a Toronto orchestra are speaking out after they say they received an email asking vocalists who are not "physically fit and slim" to refrain from wearing "tight-fitting dresses."

After backlash, Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra management has resigned, organization will 'cease to exist'

Victoria Leone replied to the Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra management saying she did not want to be a part of it anymore. (Sheraton Cadwell Group/Vimeo)

Performers who have worked with a Toronto orchestra are speaking out after they received a shocking email asking vocalists who are not "physically fit and slim" to refrain from wearing "tight-fitting dresses." 

The email, signed by Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra management, says, "...although almost all of our vocalists are fit and slim — the way our boutique orchestras would like our front line artists to be — two of our featured singers were not."

Sydney Dunitz said she had to read the email several times because she couldn't believe what she was reading. 

Sydney Dunitz was shocked performers were asked to avoid wearing 'tight-fitting' clothes unless they were 'fit and slim.' (Facebook)

"It came as a shock. It rather drew the blood from my face the first time I read it," said Dunitz, who immediately got in touch with other vocalists and found their reaction was mirroring hers.

The email, which was sent on Monday, reads, "Your image is our image. If you look good, we do, too."

It goes on to say the management hopes those singers would opt for "less physically accentuating dresses instead," and that in the future only singers who "know how to dress strategically" and don't bring attention to their "dietary indulgences" would be showcased. 

Victoria Leone says the first thing she thought she she read the email was, 'Is this directed towards me?' (Facebook/ Victoria Leone)

Dunitz said she has never heard anyone she works with use language like this. 

"It's disgusting, it's ridiculous and it has nothing to do with our vocals," she told CBC Toronto. "Everybody looks fantastic, dresses according to the dress code. It's astounding those words were used at all."

Another vocalist, Victoria Leone, said she emailed back the orchestra and said she did not want to be a part of it anymore. 

"The first thing that came to my mind when I read it was, 'Is this directed towards me?'" she said. "In their response, they said it was a privilege and pleasure to have me in their company and if I could re-read the text in red ... and essentially they sent the same email back to me and highlighted some points."

When Victoria Leone replied to her management's email, she says they responded by re-sending the email with some parts highlighted in red. (Submitted)

Leone then received another email. This time management asked her "to kindly accept our sincere apology."

Another woman who has sung with the company said she was insulted that "especially a volunteer organization, which should really be appreciating the fact that so many musicians want to give their time for good causes" said those things.

Management resigns, organization shuts down

"My heart went out to the two people targeted in the email," said Kristina Bijelic. "Just the fact that in an email that went out to everybody ... the writer would call them out in such an aggressive way."

Since receiving backlash, management sent another email Thursday afternoon with a notice of resignation and announced it will be shutting down as a result.  

"We sincerely apologize for any embarrassment/harassment that you may experience from media representatives or other individuals/parties as a result of misconstrued/malicious allegations and extremely negative/destructive/evil intent," it read.

The orchestra board has 11 members, but it was unclear how many chose to resign.

In a statement sent to CBC Toronto, the company said that as a result of the resignation, "the entire organization will cease to exist in due course."

The company says the closure is due to the loss of financial funding for community service and music training programs.

"I cannot believe they are turning the story of our embarrassment and fat-shaming that we have shared with the public and deeming it 'evil intent,'" Leone said. 

Dunitz, who also owns and works at a fitness studio, said the management's words can seriously impact the self-esteem of people, particularly women.

"Some people have spoken up and said the email affected them and they deal with weight issues and self-consciousness," she said.

Sydney Dunitz owns a fitness studio and says emails like the one she received from her management can have a significant impact on the self-esteem of women. (Sydney Dunitz)

Dunitz said she's had a positive relationship with the orchestra for the past few years, which is what prompted her to also write back saying the email was "incredibly inappropriate" and that "this is not about dress code, you have gone a step further and commented on someone's physicality."

"In no way did I want to affect the fantastic musicians and the people who work for the orchestra. They're all so talented and deserve to be heard," she said. "However, unfortunately, something like this very much overshadows all of that."

Kristina Bijelic says she can't believe the company, a volunteer organization, would insult and target two people so specifically. (CBC News)

She said she's thrilled with the response that other people have had though she's upset this will affect the performers that are talented and deserve to be heard. 

"It's opened up quite a conversation among musicians in Toronto and just generally people in Toronto and all over the place," she said. "On a grand scale, that is the most important thing."

About the Author

Ramna Shahzad

Producer, CBC Toronto

Ramna Shahzad is a multi-media producer and reporter in the CBC Toronto newsroom. She began working at CBC News in 2015 as a Joan Donaldson Scholar. Born in Karachi, Pakistan, she now calls Toronto home and writes about everything from transit and city hall to baby animal births at the zoo