Some new girls on the block are leading a revolution. It is a revolution of beauty, a beauty that starts on the inside, but shows on the outside as well. And they are getting attention. This week we look at a new trend in fashion, begun by girls whose beauty is more than a façade. They are turning heads, making headlines, and changing hearts.
THIs Is YOUR RUNWAy
“When you walk, keep your back straight, and lead with your hips,” says Leah Darrow, as she demonstrates walking across a room. “And remember—it’s a fashion show, not a track meet. Make this natural, make it your own. This is your runway.”
Leah Darrow, a model and former contestant on the TV show America’s Next Top Model is one of the mentors to these new girls on the block. The girls are preparing for the Pure Fashion Show in St. Louis. They will model trendy clothes, yes, but they will model something else. They will model the work of a great designer; the best designer, God. Their goal is to highlight the joy and confidence that come from knowing they are images of God’s beauty.
Leah knows how attractive these girls can be. They changed her life. She was in the midst of a high-powered modeling career in New York when she happened to see part of a Pure Fashion Show on television. Her career and her life choices were taking her down a dark alley. As she watched the clips on Pure Fashion, she felt the contrast between what was going on in her own life and what she saw on the faces of the girls in the show. She loved the fashions, but there was something else….
“I wondered why those cute girls and adorable outfits were being showcased on the Catholic Channel.”
Leah was touched, and she was curious. She decided to find out more. She looked up Pure Fashion on the Web and decided to write an email to the director, Brenda Sharman (a professional model herself), thanking her for putting together the program.
“Little did I know what one small email can do—Brenda called me personally, and we talked for what seemed to be only twenty minutes, when in actuality hours had passed.”
BEAUTy AND THE MIRROR
Her conversation with Brenda made her think. Beauty has power. And yet, beauty is a gift. It is a gift that can be used for good or for bad. Leah saw something in the beauty of these girls that made her reassess the power of her own beauty.
Yes, she was beautiful, and yes, she was getting attention, but was she beautiful on the inside? Did the mirror show a girl who was full of goodness, or did it show a girl who was willing to throw away her principles for vanity and pride?
GOOD GIRL GONE…
Leah had grown up on a farm in Oklahoma. As a young girl, she saw how her family turned to God in the midst of a terrible tragedy: the murder of her grandfather. It was then, at age twelve, that she became aware that it was God alone who could mend any problem. Yet something happened after college. She had always felt attracted to fashion and had modeled extensively, but that year she was chosen to compete on Season 3 of the reality TV show, America’s Next Top Model. Soon she was living in New York City, and she began to experience the pull of the darkness that much of the fashion culture was leading her into.
BEAUTy AND THE BEAsT
Helen Alvare, a leading women’s expert, spoke recently about the “dark side” of our media-driven culture: “We have the ability to broadcast to each other and to the world constant, loud, and dramatic images, including sexually charged images of women. Women are ‘objectified’ by being identified solely with their bodies.” As Pope Benedict XVI says, “This is hardly man’s great ‘yes’ to the body.” Our souls are either ignored or considered irrelevant in this type of culture.
BEAUTy AND THE BAbE…Of GOD
Talking with Brenda, Leah began to remember a beauty she had often felt inside her soul: the beauty of being loved by God. She looked at the choices she was making and realized she needed to come back to the Father’s house. She needed to be authentic about who she was as a child of God. She wrote in her diary, “Satan has had his fun with me for too long. I have been blinded by ignorance and corrupted by vanity and pride. I take back from Satan what is Yours and I give my entire self to You…. Dear Lord, make me new again in You.”
Talking with Brenda and praying, Leah felt the call to change her life and to give back some of the love she had received from God. She moved back to St. Louis, where she helped put together the first St. Louis Pure Fashion team. She still models, but has used her college studies to develop her healthcare career in neuropsychology assessment. She is also the youth minister at Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka, Missouri.
THE POWER Of MODELING
So, what was it that Leah saw in the Pure Fashion girls? “We’re not modeling a certain designer,” says fifteen-year-old Erin Moore, a Pure Fashion model from Josephville, Missouri. “We’re modeling the Great Designer.” “We are all made in his image,” says seventeen-year-old Jessica Loos. “ And Pure Fashion is more about finding the way he wants us to be and acting on it.”
The girls take part in a yearlong program that not only mentors them on being beautiful on the outside, but also shows them interior beauty, the beauty that springs from the heart. They learn that spiritual values, such as deep kindness, a strong relationship with God, and moral courage bring a deep happiness of heart that shows on the outside—a happiness that changes other peoples’ hearts as well.
The yearlong program includes not only sessions on runway style, professional makeup, and public presentation, but also includes a spiritual retreat, community service, and discussions on the sort of values that make a girl a better image of God’s love and affirm her innate dignity.
POsTER GIRLs PUsHING A REVOLUTION
In putting on their shows, these girls also have become the undisputed poster girls for the modesty movement. They believe they can be pretty without being provocative. The shows highlight their beauty by featuring clothes that focus on the grace, elegance, and joy of being feminine without being a consumer object.
And the boys notice. As one teenage boy said after an Atlanta Pure Fashion Show, “These girls are much prettier than the ones who dress provocatively. They’re the sort of girls you want to be around, the ones you feel special being around.”
Not only do the boys notice, but the fashion industry is taking notice too. Stores are studying these girls to see what they consider hip-yet-modest. Pure Fashion Shows receive strong patronage from stores such as Macy’s, Nordstrom, Gap, Limited Too, and other fashion chains. Professional clothing designers are offering their services to the girls as well.
FUN AND FAbULOUs
Pure Fashion is no small-time organization. Thirty different cities across North America are holding Pure Fashion Shows this spring, and there are Pure Fashion Shows in Paris, as well as in other European cities. Many of the shows give teens an experience that rivals famous fashion shows in New York. Grammy award-winning singers such as Rebecca St. James often perform at the shows. Emmy award-winning production companies such as Executive Vision in Atlanta have found that the shows offer them a special opportunity to showcase their services as well as promote a better culture.
Brenda Sharman, a former Miss Georgia and still a professional model, said, “When some of my other professional model friends came in and saw Pure Fashion they were just amazed. The Pure Fashion Show truly blows away all other fashion shows in the South in terms of production quality and attendance.”
BEAUTy AND ATTRACTION
What is it about beauty that attracts? And why is real beauty more than just physical? Beauty is an expression of God. And human beauty is an expression of the personal nature of God. It is an expression of our call to friendship, to see another person as a remarkable gift. In our human nature, the attraction we feel towards beauty can bring us into communion. It can bring us into communion with God and with others.
GIfT IN GIVING
Real love, as Pope Benedict reminds us, is ecstasy. It is a becoming caught up in the beauty of another person, the spiritual beauty of the person, and giving ourselves to another person because we discover his or her true beauty. This is a reflection of our desire to love God. When we finally see God, we will be caught up in his beauty, and we will want to be with him in a way that makes all our present desires seem small by comparison. These girls, in a powerful and countercultural way, are teaching us about God. And they are teaching us about the true beauty of being a woman. We have much to learn from them.
“Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.”
(1 Tim 4:12)
“…so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word…when they observe your chaste and reverent behavior.”
(1 Pt 3:1-2)
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
“For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.”
(1 Cor 6:20)
“Down the ages Christianity has been communicated and disseminated thanks to the newness of life of persons and communities capable of bearing an incisive witness of love, unity and joy.” (His Holiness Benedict XVI, May 22, 2006)
“…witness to the beauty of being Christian in an age when the opinion was spreading that Christianity is a difficult and oppressive way to live.” ( His Holiness Benedict XVI, March 24, 2007)
“Christ, who is ‘the beauty of every beauty’… is made present in the hearts of men and women and attracts them to their vocation which is love.” (His Holiness Benedict XVI, May 22, 2006)
Saints and Heros:
BEAUTy fOR THE KING
Agnes was a much sought after bride. Being the daughter of the king and queen of Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic), and Bohemia being a political jewel, she was bartered around in various arranged marriage proposals. As she grew, however, she began to feel directly attracted to Christ. By the time she was twenty-eight, she had been promised in marriage more than four times. At this point, she was already a young lady, beautiful, gentle, wise, and elegant, adding her own charms to her political sweetness. So attractive was she, in fact, that the emperor of Europe, Frederick, asked for her hand in marriage. Agnes, however, had by then decided to live only for Christ and had even asked the Pope to stand as protector of her private vow of virginity. Most girls don’t say “no” to emperors, so everyone (the Pope included) was a bit apprehensive about breaking the news to Frederick. To his credit, however, the emperor responded gallantly, actually a bit flattered to have been turned down by someone who had already been chosen by the King of heaven.
Free from worldly concerns, she was able to devote herself completely to prayer and serving souls in need. She built hospitals and started a religious order to care for them; she built hospices and poorhouses; she even built a Poor Clare convent, which she then entered as a humble religious. Soon she was made superior of the community, however, and served there the remaining fifty years of her life. She was beloved by all and because of her social position, she was able to spread the healing light of Christ throughout Europe merely by her example.
HELPING OTHERs CATCH GOD’s FIRE
St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church (entered heaven on August 20, 1153)
Bernard was of noble birth, and he showed extraordinary social and intellectual talent and skill from a very young age. By the time he finished his education (he was twenty-two), all that the luxurious world of the Middle Ages (for nobles, anyway) had to offer was within his grasp. But he felt God calling him to forsake it all for a higher Kingdom. He struggled at first, but he asked the Lord for strength and clarity, and he received both.
And then came the amazing thing. Instead of just marching off on his own to join the newly reformed monastic community at Citeaux, he started talking to friends and family members about his decision. He spoke so powerfully about the merits of putting one’s life wholly at God’s service that he convinced one after another of them to accompany him. By the time he set out, he had gathered about him thirty-one young noblemen. They all showed up together on Citaeux’s doorstep to offer themselves for the Lord’s service, much to the surprised delight of the abbot, St. Stephen Harding, who had not received a new novice for several years. Nothing like it has ever occurred in the history of the Church.
St. Bernard was always gushing forth beautiful speeches and sermons about the love of God. It was a love he had come to know, and that was the real source of his prodigious career—and it really was prodigious. He founded the famous monastery at Clairvaux, which in turn fathered sixty-eight other Cistercian monasteries. He gave spiritual (and political) guidance to popes and emperors, kings and barons, abbots and saints.
He resolved wars and schisms by the force of his wisdom and tact. He defended Catholic scholarship against secularism (the infamous rationalist Peter Abelard was his contemporary), rallied all of Europe in an effort to defend fellow Christians in the Holy Land (under the banner of the doomed “Second Crusade”), and left a wake of miracles in his path as he trekked back and forth across the continent in defense of God’s honor. True, all he really wanted was to retire from the world and devote himself to prayer and solitude, but he willingly embraced the cross God fashioned for him—much to the world’s benefit.
Christ’s love had set St Bernard’s heart on fire with love, which in turn inflamed others’ hearts. So if you really want to change the world, let yourself be totally caught by the transforming love of Christ.
- What do you think of Pure Fashion? Do you think it is a good idea? Do you think it is effective? Can you think of some stereotypes these girls might be overcoming by their shows?
- What do you think of Leah Darrow’s story? Do you think she did the right thing by leaving a promising career as a supermodel and dedicating herself to Pure Fashion? What reasons made her leave the supermodel atmosphere? Do you think she feels more fulfilled now? Why?
- What do you think of modeling shows like America’s Next Top Model? Do you think they help women be more admired and valued? Do you think they make women feel good about themselves? How would you improve these types of shows?
- What are the spiritual values that make a person more attractive? How do people who live these values help others to know and love God better?
- Why do you think the media and fashion industries are interested in Pure Fashion?
- What do you think of the modesty movement? Do you think it helps girls? Do you think it helps boys? In what ways might it help?
- What about boys’ fashions? Are there some ways guys are encouraged to dress today that sends the wrong message?
- What are some ways in which guys and girls can help one another “perceive the person” and not just the body in the way they act and the way they dress?
- Do you think that practicing the virtue of modesty can make a person happier? In what way?
- In what way does human beauty express who God is? In what way does beauty remind us that we are made for God?
- For girls: Read the fashion guidelines on the Pure Fashion Web site and go on a shopping trip to the mall with some friends. You don’t have to buy anything, but each girl should put together an outfit that pleases her and also meets the guidelines on the site. Afterwards, have a discussion about what you chose and what your fashion choices express about you and your goals or values in life. (The guys can do something similar, using their common sense and an adult mentor as a guide.)
- For both guys and girls: Write a letter to a clothing chain or magazine that promotes an immodest vision of guys or girls. Explain your thoughts or concerns. Make a promise to shop at their store if they make some changes. See if you get a response.
- Investigate whether there are any stores that feature clothes that promote a positive view of guys or girls (i.e., stores that respect modesty). See if any of their clothes look interesting or fashionable to you. Write them a note thanking them for their efforts. Buy something from them the next time you need to buy some clothing.
- Write an essay about the type of person you might like to marry. If you are a guy, try to define the type of girl you would like to marry. What special qualities make a girl attractive to you? If you are a girl, try to explain the type of boy you would like to marry. What types of qualities make a boy attractive to a girl?
- Write a letter to that imaginary person. Tell him or her some things you would like to improve about yourself in order to prepare for the day when you marry. Explain to him or her some of the values you would most like to share in your marriage. Talk about the type of values and experiences you would like to share with your children.
- Pure Fashion Web site
- Some media reports about Pure Fashion
- Short summary of Leah Darrow’s faith and beliefs
- Talk by Helen Alvare: “Female Objectification Not All Fault of Men”
- Letter on the Dignity of Women by Pope John Paul II
- Models for Christ Web site
- Letter to Women by Pope John Paul II
- Theology of the Body for Teens, Discovering God’s Plan for Love and Life, Jason & Crystalina Evert and Brian Butler, 2006, Ascension Press
- God’s Plan for You: Life, Love, Marriage & Sex, David Hajduk, 2006, Pauline Books and Media