Young, Female and Taking a Stand Against Provocative Fashion
"Why am I not accepted by you?" I recall asking the beautiful, blonde future cheerleader as we walked toward our rural-suburban sixth-grade classroom in 1997.
"You don't wear the right clothes, hang out with the right people, wear makeup or have a boyfriend," I remember her responding thoughtfully.
At that moment, I faced a dilemma that would affect the rest of my life: Would I choose to abandon my friends and clothing and acquire a boyfriend and makeup skills to become popular, or would I stay on the course I was on?
My feminine heart longed to be accepted, to be considered pretty and fashionable. But what was I willing to sacrifice to obtain it? Even at 12, I sensed that if I took the advice implied by my classmate's answer I would be allowing my identity to be dictated by others from then on. Everything within me rebelled at saying goodbye to who I was. So I made my choice: I wouldn't pursue the criteria that would open the doors of popularity.
For the next seven years, until I graduated from high school, I watched as friends and classmates grew more obsessed with becoming what in the 1920s was called the "It" girl. We all knew -- from magazines, TV and societal mores -- that to be accepted one had to be hot. This meant wearing the latest fashions, designed for model-thin people and showcasing as many curves as possible. It meant going to parties where one rebelled, along with everyone else, against adult restrictions and where one hoped to be recognized by the girls as having "it" together and by the guys as being sexy. To attain this status, girls did the usual: starved themselves, dressed "fashionably" and gossiped incessantly to establish themselves and, with calculated innocence, to rip other girls to shreds.
I was reminded of all of this by an article in The Post's Health section last month, "Goodbye to Girlhood; As Pop Culture Targets Ever Younger Girls, Psychologists Worry About a Premature Focus on Sex and Appearance."
It is incredibly difficult for any girl or young woman to withstand the continual onslaught. I know it was for me. In the end, I was able not only to survive but to thrive in this environment because of my parents, my faith and my life experiences.
My parents' love and support were unfailing. They were there when I came home in tears because the pressures of being a teenage girl were too much; they were there when I needed to share news of something wonderful.
My faith enabled me to ground my self-worth in who I was as a person, not in what I could do or become.
And I was fortunate to learn from several guys' own lips that they valued modesty in women and admired those who had interior as well as exterior beauty. It took years, but eventually I internalized the reality that women's clothes send a message to the world and that if we want to be treated as people and not as objects, our clothes and body language must project true beauty -- dignity and quiet confidence accented, of course, by the latest clothing and accessories.
Now, as a twentysomething grad student at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at Catholic University, I still grapple with the issues raised by that childhood conversation, albeit with a more academic approach. Such studies have allowed me to realize how similar my experiences have been to those of many other women.
As a result, I have gotten involved with Pure Fashion DC, a nonprofit model-training program that seeks to inspire high-school-age girls to be role models as well as fashion models. We regularly meet with our 46 models, who hail from all over the Washington area, to discuss inner beauty (on, say, getaway weekend) and outer beauty (on salon day). Our time together will culminate in a three-hour fashion show April 29 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Washington, where our models will showcase this year's fashions with grace and modesty.
Whether it's over coffee, at a Pure Fashion DC event, in a conference room or at a pajama party, I share my experiences with young women and girls to encourage them to send a message of true beauty with their bodies and their clothing.
-- Jessica A. Dolezal
The writer volunteers with Pure Fashion DC, a model-training program that stresses modesty. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.