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.
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.