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Fighting Back Against Fashion Industry
A program for girls, teaches them modesty, purity and chastity as well as the ins and outs of hair, make-up and posture. The girls model what they've learned on a catwalk.

These days Emily Morrow-Fick keeps busy organizing runway lessons, wardrobe fittings and easing last-minute stage fright as she prepares 55 young girls to take center stage at a Pure Fashion fashion show.

A model walks on the runway of the 2005 Pure Fashion Show in Atlanta, Georgia, while other young women look on.

"It's not just about fashion, a lot of it is teaching girls how to present themselves without feeling like they have to act like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton," said Morrow-Fick, 18, a student at St. Mary's College and the co-chair for Pure Fashion in Calgary.

Pure Fashion is a Catholic program that promotes modest dress for girls in grades eight through 12.

Young women attend training sessions to learn about the virtues of modesty, purity and chastity, as well as the ins and outs of hair, make-up and posture. This all leads up to a fashion show where the girls model all that they've learned on the catwalk.

"Trendy but tasteful" is the catch phrase national chairwoman Brenda Sharman uses to describe the philosophy behind Pure Fashion.

"Pure Fashion has grown into a whole person developmental program. Modesty is more than what you wear on the outside, it has to be an exterior reflection of an interior attitude," Sharman, who brings 20 years experience in modeling and acting to Pure Fashion, told The Catholic Register in a telephone interview from Atlanta, Georgia.

"Their intention should be to turn as many hearts as possible, not heads."

Pure Fashion lists specific clothing guidelines girls are to abide by during the fashion show and potentially retain once it's over. Material must not be thin nor sheer, necklines should not be more than four fingers below the collar bones and skirts and dresses should be no shorter than four fingers above the top of the kneecaps are three examples.

"Girls are very hesitant to accept the idea of being modest in a society that tells them to wear short shirts, heavy eye make-up and act ditzy. They are hesitant to be more confident unless they are wearing these clothes," said Morrow-Fick.

Not all girls buy into the Pure Fashion message, but the program is meant to plant a seed for the future, added Morrow-Fick.

Sharman agrees living out the principles of Pure Fashion is not easy. "It's a countercultural message because right now all the things you read are about how to be hot and sexy."

Anne Moroney, 14, has been sold on the Pure Fashion message. On May 7-06 she participated in her third fashion show at the Spruce Meadows Congress in Calgary.

"I really like fashion and clothes but I also think that we should stand up for all the rest of the girls and show we can be stylish and modest and really show our dignity and show we're worth dressing nicely," said Moroney, who convinced two girlfriends to join her this year.

… her daughter's confidence has increased since modeling with Pure Fashion.

Moroney said it helps having peers who also practice modesty. "There's always pressure to dress immodestly, especially from girls your age and our culture is very immodest. You'll go into a store and try on something immodest because it's hard to find other clothes."

Barbara Moroney said she's noticed her daughter's confidence has increased since modeling with Pure Fashion. She welcomes the modesty message coming from outside the home.

"The pressure is for them to sell their body," said Moroney, a Catholic who home-schools Anne and her five other children. "In many ways they are still little girls, so I think it's about trying to protect them without becoming the enemy, but sometimes it can be a battle. They tend to say the parents are the bad guys."

The Moroney family got involved with Pure Fashion through the Challenge Girl Club, a Catholic leadership program for girls within Regnum Christi, an international Catholic lay and religious movement. Seven years ago, a group of mothers and daughters in the United States decided to hold small informal fashion shows that promoted modest dress in church halls and basements.

It's grown to 15 chapters in the United States and one permanent location in Calgary that started three years ago. In just three years, the Calgary chapter has grown, its budget going from $2,500 to $35,000. The ultimate goal is to make Pure Fashion into a product that can be franchised, said Jodie Britton, chairwoman for Pure Fashion Calgary.

Britton's unchurched background inspired her interest in the program. "I can attest coming from teenage years without Christ that there's no fulfillment in shopping or boys," said Britton, mother of three boys.

She said she tries to help girls become real models as role models. She believes girls who learn the virtue of modesty are models for living chastely later in life. "The girls that I do know that are 18-19 are able to be more well-balanced and peaceful and happy because they've remained pure of body and heart so the temptations just aren't there in a relationship."

Pure Fashion is slowly expanding in Canada. Vancouver and Edmonton have hosted informal Pure Fashion shows and in just under two months a group of women in Halifax slapped together a Pure Fashion show held April 2, 2006. After four preparatory sessions, Keri Webber was one of 25 models aged ten-18 who strutted down the catwalk.

"It was really fun. (It) made you realize how much you come across to other people," said Webber, 17, a Grade 11 student who had no previous modeling experience.

Webber said after the show she went to Old Navy and bought all the outfits she modeled in the show.

Melanie Douchesne had a similar experience. Since participating in the show she doesn't wear low-cut shirts or low-rise pants. "I can bend down and not worry about my underwear sticking out."

"I find once you're out of high school it's not as bad," said Melanie Douchesne, an 18-year-old first-year student at St. Mary's University in Halifax. "I don't find that there is any pressure any more. I just wear the clothes that suit my personality."

Although Douchesne said she may be in the clear, she thinks junior and early high school-aged girls face the most pressure. "Everyone dresses up and tries to be that pretty girl in school. I see my little sister and her friends do it and they are only 14 and 15 years old."

In the first of four sessions, the girls learned how to stand up to the pressure of society and the media. They analyzed magazine ads. A recent university grad spoke about her battle with anorexia and two university-aged men described what they look for in a woman. They talked about how they wouldn't take an immodestly dressed girl seriously in the future, said Webber.

"The more skin girls show (the more) guys (stop) looking at them for their personality. They are more like, they think she has a nice body," said Webber, explaining what she learned during the presentation.

"Our theme is looking good inside and out," said Donna Webb, one of the workshop facilitators. "You might attract someone for a little while, but will they stay?"

"My senses are assaulted all the time when I walk down the street," Webb said. "There's no modesty, no purity left in the culture. And it's sending our young people in the wrong direction. We just want to open their eyes to a different way of life."

Webb said although she doesn't have any daughters, she has a vested interest in teaching girls the value of modest dress.

"I have five sons. It's important to me the type of women they are going to be attracted to. They will be the mothers of my grandchildren."

… it does not tout itself as Catholic-run.

Webb decided to spearhead the fashion show after she received a call from friend and Juno-nominated Catholic recording artist Janelle Reinhart. As the national spokesperson, Reinhart composed the Pure Fashion theme song "It's a new day." She sings it at fashion shows across North America.

Webb and the other organizers were impressed with the 200-person audience and expressed interest in putting another show together next year.

Now that Pure Fashion is branded as its own organization, separate from Regnum Christi, it has its own logo, posters and Website, though it does not tout itself as Catholic-run.

"If we are going to address this worldwide problem of immodesty, then we have to be inclusive," Sharman explained. "It's going to take all of us uniting as Christians to fight this battle because Satan has been alive and well in the fashion industry."

Originally published in the Catholic Register, May 7, 2006.




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