Fashion's Modest Twist

Interview With Brenda Sharman

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By Kathleen Naab

CUMMING, Georgia, NOV. 26, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The director of a new modeling group says that some girls have been finding it hard to spend hours at the shopping mall. Their problem? Clothes offered by retailers do not meet the youths' standards of modesty.

Brenda Sharman, director of Pure Fashion, explains in this interview with ZENIT that her group began when would-be shoppers could not find anything that was "pretty but not provocative."

Q: How did Pure Fashion begin and how does it work?

Sharman: Pure Fashion shows began in 1999, when several girls across the country decided to present modesty fashion shows to counteract the immodest fashions that were beginning to permeate local retailers. These moms and daughters were looking for ways to dress modestly, yet fashionably.

Word spread over the next five or six years through Challenge Clubs -- a Regnum Christi youth apostolate for girls ages 10-16 -- and modesty fashion shows began popping up all over the country. In 2006, the fashion shows were unified by establishing the apostolate of Pure Fashion, which is now in 24 cities in the United States, as well as Australia, Belgium, Italy, Mexico, Spain, France, Hungary and Canada.

From those modest beginnings, Pure Fashion has continued to grow, with professional shows such as one in Atlanta in April, attracting audiences of more than 2,000 people.

Pure Fashion's most important mission is to touch the hearts of young women with the love of Christ and to help them live out that love in all they do. The eight-month Model Training Program certainly includes segments on fashion, etiquette, hair and makeup, public speaking and the practical aspects of personal presentation. But these are only the tools used to open the hearts of the girls.

The young women also participate in a weekend-long retreat and in outreach projects of service to the community. Every aspect of the program stresses the dignity of the human person. Pure Fashion models learn to embrace their own authentic beauty and they learn that they, and everyone they meet, are children of God. It is our sincere desire that they will then become role models for modesty and purity in their Churches, schools and communities.

The grand finale of the Model Training program is a Pure Fashion show that rivals any fashion show in the industry. The Pure Fashion show itself is designed to reach any woman between the ages of 8 and 88. Our hope is that the Pure Fashion models will become role models for the young girls in attendance and set the bar high for fashions that are trendy but tasteful, pretty but not provocative.

Q: Did you look to any Church teaching, such as John Paul II's theology of the body, for inspiration in this apostolate?

Sharman: The Model Training Program, at the core of the Pure Fashion apostolate, does take its inspiration from the theology of the body. We definitely recognize that the integrity of the body and soul is very evident in how a young lady presents herself. So we emphasize the point that what a woman wears sends a message about who she is -- on the inside. She is not a disembodied "good person" who does and wears whatever with her shell/body. What she does and wears will affect who she is and becomes. So, just as our bodies speak a language about our Creator, so too does the clothing speak a language about the woman wearing them. This is obvious, but has been lost in our modern Western culture.

We see Pure Fashion as a practical application of theology of the body in this very tangible way -- in the clothes that a woman chooses to wear.

Q: Are young women interested in being modest?

Sharman: Unfortunately, our society is proving that no, many young women are not interested in being modest. Modesty is very often a forgotten virtue. That is why Pure Fashion was founded: To remind young women that our bodies are holy and sacred and that they should not be used in a way that leads others into unhealthy curiosity or lustful thoughts.

There is a portion of our society that has not forgotten about the virtue of modesty and many mothers and young girls are happy to learn about Pure Fashion and join the ranks of thousands who believe that we can change our culture … one outfit at a time.

When young women realize their inherent dignity and choose to live in accordance with God’s laws, they are released from the shackles of peer pressure: pressure to engage in premarital sex, to dress “minimally,” and to have the perfect body, hair and face. They are free to recognize and unleash the radiant beauty within them.

Q: Why do young girls dress the way they do?

Sharman: I think that mostly they are just following the trends that are set by advertisers, designers, magazines and celebrities. Teens are typically very self-conscious and want to “fit in” and be accepted. If they do not have strong convictions and a well-formed conscience, it is easy to “go along with the crowd."

In addition, a young woman’s desire to get attention from boys is typically very strong -- the human heart always seeks love -- and they might see young men reacting to a girl who is “sexy,” so other girls decide that they want to be “sexy” too. They want that attention for themselves.

It is also my opinion that with the breakdown of so many families, many parents aren’t playing the role that they used to in the past. … Girls used to hear their fathers saying things like, “You can’t leave the house in that.” And nowadays, many moms and dads are actually proud when their daughters look “hot” or “sexy."

Dressing immodestly can lead to having a casual attitude about the human body, its value and its purpose. It also invites more casual behaviors and attitudes toward sex. This casual attitude about sex that many teens have adopted has led to unhealthy, sad and tragic consequences.

Q: As you say on your Web site, modesty guidelines depend from one culture to another. How did you determine the guidelines you use for Pure Fashion?

Sharman: The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It is discreet."

The laywomen, consecrated women and priests who have been involved with Pure Fashion since its inception thoughtfully and prayerfully considered the published modesty guidelines for Pure Fashion shows. The teachings of our Church, Scripture and the Catechism were considered when forming the guidelines.

We feel they are realistic in today’s culture and are protective of the female body. In addition, they are in line with what most private Catholic schools recommend. We realize that different cultures have different expectations for modesty in women, and even in America, we realize that the idea of modesty and decency has changed over time. Remember when it was scandalous for a woman to show her ankles?

But given that today’s typical teenager is involved in activities such as soccer, volleyball, softball, running, dance, gymnastics or ballet, we knew, for example, that asking a young girl to always wear a skirt below her knees would not be applicable to today's situations.

Our goal is to re-sensitize and form the consciences of young girls so that they can learn to make wise, informed decisions about how they present themselves in many different circumstances. We realize that different modes of dress are appropriate in different situations. What a young woman wears to the beach, to a picnic, or while playing sports should be different from what she wears to Mass.

We emphasize that when a woman gets dressed for church, her clothing should reflect the sacred solemnity of the occasion. Sometimes a casual attitude in our clothing can cause a casual attitude toward what we are doing, and we should never cultivate a casual attitude toward worshipping God when we attend Mass.

Our focus is to help young women become prudent and discerning so that they feel compelled to be modest young ladies in the many different situations and occasions in their lives.

Q: How can parents instill in their daughters the value of modesty?

Sharman: Parents can instill modesty by teaching their daughters the reality of their dignity.

Dignity is rooted in the girl's understanding that she is known and loved by God, that she was created for a mission to love and serve others and to know and love God.

Parents need to teach her that there is so much more to her existence than what she looks like or how others perceive her. They should instill in her the belief that she is a creature full of mystery and wonder, with talents that she can put at the disposal of God who gave them to her -- to use them to bring others to Christ. This is what will excite her and give her life meaning.

Wearing trendy, immodest clothing does not then have the attraction it otherwise would if she were not rooted in her true worth. Her self-assuredness and confidence are the armor she needs to protect her from the negative influences of the superficial pop culture.