A New Standard of Beauty

Growing up, I knew I loved beautiful clothes, twirling for ages in any fabric that would float about me.  As a teenager, I ached and grasped for some standard of beauty.  My true and real feminine desire to please others – to be admired by others – got twisted into an equation that our culture tells us adds up correctly, but that in reality leaves us far from the right answer:

Stares from men = attention. Attention = attractiveness. Attractiveness = beauty.  Beauty = worth.

I never was any good at math.

It may be safe to say many women feel this way.  Consciously or not, we understand that fashion is a tool that communicates our desire to feel and be beautiful. Why else would we gravitate towards pretty things and care about what we wear, as well as cringe at the sight of sandals and socks?

Fashion speaks volumes about who we are as women – and who we want to be.  Too often, in the attempt to present ourselves as beautiful, we fall victim to trends that equate ideal, mature beauty with “sexiness.”  The relentless striving to be “sexy” can distort a woman’s longing to be desirable in the best sense of that word.  Straining for attention, women can often hide behind trends…even hide behind their own skin.

I know, because I hid behind my appearance to validate my yearning for self-worth.  This familiar, yet epidemic mindset is one of the many reasons I helped found Verily Magazine, a new publication that’s starting a fresh conversation on beauty, relationships, culture and lifestyle. By featuring fashion that complements rather than compromises a woman’s dignity, Verily hopes to invite all women to come to know their own worth.

Over a year ago while fitting a model at Verily’s first photo shoot, I’ll never forget the model’s response to our styling choices. She was a vibrant, vivacious young woman, yet outfit after outfit, she shuffled out from behind the changing room, shoulders hunched over with a disdainful pout on her face.

“You’re obviously not going for sexy at all, are you?” she said.

I was stunned. As stylish and beautiful as the clothes were, they had more fabric than she was accustomed to.  She was uncomfortable not showcasing more of her body. The next moment, she slipped on a slightly shorter, more fitted dress and perked up again with a smile as if she had downed a shot of espresso.

The experience burns in my memory because it illustrates the great disconnect underlying the popular understanding of beauty, worth, and fashion.  It’s the same disconnect I felt as a young woman while shopping with my mother and rolling my eyes out of annoyance as she optimistically held up knee length skirts for me to try on.

Dressing modestly has nothing to do with denying our sexual attractiveness, but it’s affirming we are more than just sexually attractive. Modesty invites.  It invites all women to realize we are worthwhile human beings. Looking at it from a deeper perspective, modesty reflects the fact that we are beloved daughters of God whose dignity is based on far more than our outward appearance. This is something I learned through personal experience.

Verily team members L-R: Ashley Crouch, Mary Rose Somarriba, Kara Eschbach, Krizia Sapida, and Janet Sahm

As my views on fashion and authentic beauty evolved, I was invited to discover something more about myself. I was challenged to see myself as something infinitely more valuable than I ever thought possible.  That evolution has been life changing, setting me on a redemptive path towards living a healthy, well-rounded life that is allowing me to grow into the woman God is calling me to become. It’s the reason I believe so passionately in Verily because it dares to do the same.

How so?  We know discipline is ultimately good, for instance.  Working out, studying hard, being organized etc… all can result in what is best for us.  Fashion is no different.  By being aware that what we wear affects ourselves and others, we can begin to unleash our own ‘personal’ style.  There is freedom within boundaries, freedom to discover one’s own tastes and creativity. How utterly revealing it is when a woman’s true personality is drawn out, heightened, and crowned by her choice in clothing. Fashion makes sense when we fit clothes to our bodies and tastes, not the other way around.

We women don’t have to wait until we “feel” worthy enough to begin dressing a little less revealingly. It takes a leap of faith to try something new – to sample clothes that show more of who we are rather than how fit our bodies are.

So let’s begin living a new equation: Worth = beauty. Beauty = attractiveness. Attractiveness = draws others to your goodness.

Even with my poor math skills, I know that’s an equation that’s both true and mesmerizing.


Janet Sahm is the Co-Founder and Style Editor of Verily Magazine.

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  • Pargontwin

    This actually calls to mind a headline I saw on MSN yesterday; “Nudity leads to love, study shows.”  I’ll admit that’s probably a paraphrase, because I don’t really remember exactly how it was worded, and I didn’t read the article.  My knee-jerk response was simply, once again, our culture has confused love with lust.  And that is what has happened with the popular standard of beauty.  To pare that first equation down to a more empirical form, it’s simply, beautiful = sexy.  I was constantly made fun of in high school, because, in an age when miniskirts were all the rage, I continued to wear my older dresses, knee-length to mid-calf.  When they wore out, the rules had changed to allow girls to wear pants to school (1971); I have not worn a dress or skirt since that day, except for a brief period in the 1980s when longer skirts came back into fashion.  Some may argue that wearing pants is no better than wearing a miniskirt, and if you wear the kind that are considered fashionable for women, they’re right.  I routinely buy mine one or two sizes larger, which makes everyone look down their noses at me.  But I never have to worry about violating dress codes at work, either. ;D

  • For the sake of men who want to be pure and holy, please women dress modestly.  It is more attractive and eye catching.

  • Ibasashab

    I can’t agree more. I have a younger brother and I pray for him that he will stay pure and find a pure young woman. It is sad how immodest people have become and how you see fourteen year old girls wearing shirts with their cleavage hanging out and wanting to be sexy. I fear for what it will be like when i have children.

  • Proteios1

    Speaking as a professional who interacts with female coworkers of all ages. I don’t think women, especially younger ones, realize how sexy clothes at work are viewed. Factions are usually, avoidance, as we don’t want to be drawn to you breasts or backside. Other reaction is the obvious list and construction worker like comments behind their back. Female colleagues who dress and act modestly, may support all forms of choice, but still stereotype the girls negatively. In summary, it hurts to look like you clubbing hen you are at work. I think people should all dress modestly all the time, but this comment is targeted at the workplace.

  • rmpuncer

    I don’t know if men know this but as much as they struggle with purity, we women struggle with modesty and the desire to be loved and wanted. It is a very difficult thing. Our hearts were created to be loved and cherished, and whether we admit it or not that is the root desire of every woman’s heart. It is very hard to live in a world where men constantly put us down for not being as beautiful or sexy as other women. I just ask you to please, as we think of your purity, think of our hearts. If you see a modest women, tell her she is beautiful. You have no idea how encouraging it is and how it that helps us in our pursuit of self-worth and dignity as women. 

  • Scott Johnston

    This is awesome! Thank you for this article. As a man, I support this perspective 100%! Ladies, your beauty is so much more than just your physical appearance! It includes all of who you are as a daughter of God.

    Men out there, let’s do all we can to encourage the women in our lives to see things in this light–yes, to have a healthy regard for the physical, but not to reduce themselves merely to the level of the physical. The messages we send to them (spoken and unspoken) can play a role in all this. St. Gianna Molla, pray for us.

    God bless you Janet! May your new magazine have much success!

  • Jwebright

    Agreed!   Inner beauty is very attractive to all. God made us in his image…
    Also look up Dignitas Magazine for young women at http://www.Dignitas.com

  • Jwebright

    Correction from earlier post…
    Dignitas Magazine is at  http://dignitasmagazine.com 

  • Lrmichelle29

    Just a friendly FYI: “…cringe at the site of sandals and socks” should be “…cringe at the sight…” Great article, just thought the article might benefit from your fixing the word so as not to distract any readers : )

  • catholicexchange

    Thanks for helping us out! God bless.

  • I heard about Verily last year through my friend Sophie, and was an instant fan. Verily is to beauty and magazine culture what ENDOW is to fellowship and formation. They both should be promoted and supported widely!

  • I should add that as a pop culture fan and design nerd, I’m super impressed with the production value of Verily. It’s a magazine that appears beautiful while drawing in a woman who is used to the high production value of the mainstream beauty magazine. It stands out from the crowd at the same time.

  • Jules

     And I wish the Christian men around us would recognize what rmpuncer said below and take responsibility for their own purity. Women can be modest and attractive, but men also need to treat women as Christ does, not as the world does, no matter what they wear. I’m not excusing immodesty, only saying that this doesn’t rest on the shoulders of women alone. Help your sisters out by seeing them the way Christ does. What a gift that would be!

  • Anh

    Thank you for this article! And for your work with Verily, Janet! I try to encourage my friends and other women to dress modestly on my fashion blog as well. We need more encouragement in the face of our culture telling us otherwise!

  • Joannes7

    Thank you, yes i agree regarding the dress code, modesty especially at work is very important if you want to be treated fairly and seriously.

    There is a way to look beautiful with your choice of modest clothing, I always get many compliments from both men and women when I dress modestly.  Maybe you can bring a friend who is fashion conscious shopping with you for their help.

    God Bless! 

  • Scott Johnston

     Jules, please consider that Tony’s remark above does not suggest that men do not have primary responsibility for their own purity. What it does suggest, is that we are part of a community whose actions have real impact on each other. And if women care about men, we could use some help from women in growing and sustaining pure hearts.

    Why is simply asking for some measure of help in this area always seen by somebody as not taking responsibility? Can you not see that it is good to want to help others in their growth in holiness? In fact, to desire such is a part of the love we are called to have for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ?

  • I’m looking forward to reading Verily- it seems like it will be an extension of what Betty Beguiles is doing with her blog

  • fatima22

    Also this
    documentary is really good because it shows here that the gays and homosexuals
    got into the fashion industry to make the female neutral gender, no longer
    feminine. The gay and homosexuals put women in pants and cut off their hair to make
    them more boyish to fit their sexual fantasies. Keeping in mind the Church’s
    notification (earlier above that I posted) on the warning about women wearing
    men’s clothing. I think today truly femininity has been lost. Also, the media
    always portraits young girls to wear the tightest jeans possible because the
    media makes women sexual instead of feminine. Young men and scientist have
    proven this through brain waves, that when a girl wears tight pants the men
    look straight up her legs to her rear-end and they see the girl as an object.
    If a girl wears a pair of loose pants she truly feels like a lesbian though and
    that is what these girls will tell you, and that is exactly what gays and
    homosexuals intention for putting girls in men’s pants was to do in the first
    place, make her more boyish/gender neutral. Women in looser pants also try to
    act more sophisticated and Mother Angelica says that God didn’t intend for us
    women to act sophisticated for is not childlike. Femininity today is lost and
    it was planned by the homosexuals and gays. Please check this out we do need to
    get back to ladies dressing feminine (ladies in dresses-below the knees-like
    our real model Mother Mary). Go to about 30:50 to hear the truth that gays
    wanted to wipe out femininity through women wearing pants. http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/time-capsule-mike-wallace-tells-truth-about-homosexuality-in-1967-documenta

  • fatima22

    I pray you don’t delete this because this is truly an important document from the Church on the dangers of women wearing men’s clothing (pants).  I know if men started wearing women’s dresses we would all be shocked at the loss of masculinity and that is how the church reacted to women wearing pants.  this whole site has documents from the Magisterium which can be used to help our Lord and our Lady spread true modesty. . http://www.catholicmodesty.com/Mens_Dress.html

  • Carmendesousa

    I am tired of leaving the house and have to look at clevege all the time.  If I am a women and strugle with this….My God, how much more do good men have to deal with this ??.  Please men dont lie and say it does not affect you.  A women knows when a man is lying.  St. Maria Goretti please pray for our culture to imerse it self into purity the way God intends it to be.   I have a new rule for those who want to swim in my pool “No Bikinis please !!”  Inmodest women say by their looks “control me” modest women say by their looks “I am in control” quote by Jason Evertte.  All the best with this new magazine!!

  • James H, London

    Wow. I never thought of that!

    Thanks, rmpuncer. I’ll remember to work on my girls with that.

  • Guest

    Very offensive.

  • Ebrmq93

    Good article, but unfortunate that the profile picture of the author shows her with so much makeup covering her face.  It’s unfortunate that more women don’t recognize the reality that makeup only serves to cover up or distract from their true natural beauty.  I have never seen a woman look more attractive with noticable makeup than she would without it.

  • Allurebeautique

    I LOVE this Janet! How can we subscribe to the magazine? Also, I would love to work with you on styling articles in your magazine! I own an online women’s boutique that focuses on classy yet sassy clothing for women!

  • Guest

    So…gays wanted to make women “neutral” but the “media” wanted to make women sexual? So that makes today’s women what? Neutra-sexual? And you also want women to act “child-like…” are you a pedo?!? If it looks like a quack and sounds like a quack…probably a quack. 

  • fatima22

    Jesus wants us to become like little children so we can enter the Kingdom of God.  Little children do not act sexual, or sophisticated etc…  Little children obey their parents and know their parents will take care of the and guard and protect them from all harm. Little children love and trust their parents.  God wants us to love him and trust him and have confidence in Him like little children.  God is the word and the word was made flesh.  His word is truth and the bible says for a woman to dress quietly and modestly and to not dress like men. Did you get a chance to read the bottom site I sent?  It shows the effects that pants would have on society and women’s femininity and these were written by the Holy See.  I have five girls and when the first two were little, about seven years old and eight years old, the two older girls wanted to try on a pair of jeans, so they went in the dressing room and came out showing me them.  They totally acted differently.  They started raising their feet like they needed heels on and then they walked real sexual.  They were imitating how other girls they saw acted.  They kept checking out their butts and saying I want these, what is wrong with them mom?  Just recently my youngest girl, she is eight years old was making her first Holy Communion this year and I was trying to find her some white shoes.  Her feet are larger cause she is tall for her age.  There were not many shoes to choose from.  At Macy’s there was a child’s section and the only pair left for children that fit her had a raised heel.  She put them on and I looked at the girl as my daughter started swaying her hips and flashing her hair and I said “why is it I get the feeling that these shoes are not going to be drawing my daughter to the fact that this day is about Jesus coming in her and worshiping him and not about herself”?  They young girl maybe only 21 years old said to me, ‘I am sooo glad you are feeling that way because some parents won’t let there children just be children.”  And that is exactly what we are all called to be. (says Jesus and he isn’t a quack)   That girl hit the nail on the head and she never had any children.  I ended up finding a lower heeled show at JC Penny’s and my daughter loved them.  Jesus  is the truth and the only truth that sets you free.  I want my daughters to be free from her ego and herself and all vanity.  Little children are free and we must keep them that way, by not letting them follow the fashions of this world.  Our Lady of Fatima never comes back prancing around in a pair of pants, she never shows off her heels and her rear end, but most of our magazines do.  I just was telling the truth and that is all I have.  I didn’t want to offend you.  I used to wear jeans and pants too and I got sooo tired of men telling me what a nice a** I had (because I had seven children and still was thin).  I asked the blessed Virgin one day while praying in front of the Tabernacle to teach me modesty and I told her I was tired of hearing this filth.  From then on I knew what true modesty was.  I through out all my jeans and shorts and tank tops etc… I had no internet and I had no church to back me up.  I have been called extreme etc…  But today I have the church’s teaching to back up the truth of what the Church teaches, and the truth is I am not extreme at all.  The truth is most women like I was have no idea what true modesty is.  I thank God I have the truth in writing from the Church to back up everything Mary changed in a moment for me,  ‘Dressing with Dignity’ the book, changed my husband’s mind too, and I thank God cause he didn’t understand me for years. I don’t expect you to understand but praying for true modesty, changed my life.  I can’t explain it, but Mary changed my life, in that one prayer.  My husband at the time and mom thought I was scrupulous and all my friends thought I was nuts,  no I was set free  I could now walk in any store (in a skirt below my knees) and now I know longer had to hear some guy (even married) or some old friend ask me for my number or some one ask me to be in a magazine and tell me how great my body looked, even though I had a husband and seven children.  Pants outline the body and women do act differently in them and I can’t explain it but the Church knows the truth and I hope you will read our Holy Mother’s wisdom and I pray for a true return to us women being feminine and are far from feminine.  Truly, you see a girl at her first Holy Communion and it is grace, or a woman  in her wedding dress and it is grace.  Femininity is modesty and grace.  It is Mary the Mother of God and I think we all have to look back and take a real good look at how everyone dressed before our Lady appeared at Fatima, to understand that there are certain fashions that offend Our Lord.  The church did write about pants offending our Lord, and Padre Pio told a lady with a pant shop that she would to to hell, if she didn’t get rid of it.  I pray you will read the notification from the Church.  Please know I don’t want to offend anyone.  Women in pants and girls in pants are all jumpy or sophisticated, or sexy or boyish etc… I see a woman in a long dress (below the knees) as an angel, like a little lady, like a little child, ….I don’t know, but truly to me it is grace, and I don’t want to offend anyone….I have nothing to offer but the truth. truly

  • Dyer123

    well said.

  • Karey

    Good article. Maybe you should find out if the model supports your vision for your publication before you hire her.

  • JustSaying

     The Taliban rationalize women wearing burqas using this same logic.

  • Alexandra Richards

    Worth = beauty. Beauty = attractiveness. Attractiveness = draws others to your goodness” great article.

  • rmpuncer

    hey Scott, you are very right in saying that we have a responsibility to be modest, we have a responsibility to God, to men and to ourselves. All men and women have the responsibility to serve each other, aid each other in getting to heaven, to die to ourselves like Christ did on the cross for the salvation of souls. 

    I think men have a clearer understanding of how original sin affected the male gender than women do. Women tend to see this as a one sided problem. Men are visually oriented and thats not women’s fault, it’s because of sin etc. What women don’t understand is how original sin affected the female gender. It goes deeper than women just dressing immodestly. We don’t realize that we have a problem that is just as equally wrong and hard to deal with as men do. We emotionally lust. We seek emotional gratification. I honestly don’t think women know how wrong it is. Women use men, they use their looks and bodies to gain emotional gratification. Even women who are good christians will still crumble and dress immodestly because she needs to be soothed emotionally.  

    Im sure you’ve heard women say that they don’t dress for men, they dress for themselves. Thats true, we do dress for ourselves, to feel emotionally secure, to feel good about ourselves, to be told we are beautiful. Men get used in the process. Yes I know this is so so wrong. Women are just as much as men at fault for using the opposite sex for personal gratification and not being in control of our own desires. Men and women both lust, it’s just different in kind. 

    Women need to understand that they are not just dressing modestly to help guys, but to help themselves possess emotional virtue. 

    So, then the ideal that it is ok to dress immodestly when just hanging around girls or by yourself in you own home is ok. A lot of girls think this, I used too. No, it’s still wrong because it is using the body to appease the emotions. It is using the body for the wrong reasons.

    Yes we should be dressing as to inspire virtue in men! But also to inspire virtue in other women. Sadly most women and young girls have never heard of the idea of emotional virtue and chastity. But this why women have such a hard time with dressing modestly even if they know it is the right thing to do, even if they know they might use and hurt men in the process. Because they are trying to fill a deep deep whole in heart. 

    Im sorry this was really long, but this is coming from my own personal struggles and experiences with learning about modesty. We need to be understanding of guys and their struggles, and guys need to be understanding of women too 🙂

  • Rachel M

    Why oh why did you have to end a perfectly nice article denigrating your math skills? That just feeds into another stereotype that women are more attractive when they’re dumb.