Bright Maidens: Dresses & the Apostolate of Beauty

  Feminine Genius: The Dress
red and apples by le_479
Photo credit: red and apples
During my high school orientation, the Dean of Students explained that school was taken seriously, and just as the teachers had a uniform (suits and ties for the men; dresses, skirts, or slacks for the women), students were required to wear the same.  We had the same job, whether teacher or student, and our uniform set a professional tone.
In the same way, dresses can set the tone for femininity.   I feel different in a dress.  Prettier.   More confident.   My smile stretches just a little bit wider.  I beam at the world and chime hello to animals, children, nature, men, and women –  everyone and everything.   Life is just too sweet to keep to myself, and people seem to respond.  Kids smile back.  Gentlemen hold doors.  Strangers share jokes on the elevator. 
  
I’m not saying wearing a dress brings femme fatale powers – just that when you feel beautiful, you act beautiful, and you are beautiful!  And that beauty is important to the world!  Fulton Sheen once spoke of the Apostolate of Beauty in a very positive way.  “The Apostolate of Beauty.  Do not be ashamed to think of that,” he instructed.   “You are young, attractive, but the mere fact that you are young, you are vivacious – do you realize that when beauty is virtuous, it is far more appealing than anything else?  You recognize that I have power the good Lord has given me, the power of word, but he has given to you this other power.  And it’s more powerful, really, because as a wise old Greek said, “Everyone loves beauty.”
 
The world aches for God’s beauty.  So find whatever makes you feel beautiful – cherry lipstick, dresses, curly hair, sparkly earrings, sans make up, flattering jeans, a bright smile, whatever it is –  and embrace it as another way God lets his love shine.



Bright Maidens: Never Give Beauty Another Negative Thought

 The “Bright Maidens” were originally three from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. Now, we all take up the cross to dispel the myths and misconceptions. Welcome!
Topic: Catholic Modesty
Never Give Beauty Another Negative Thought

I’ll be honest: I get nervous when I read about modesty on Catholic blogs.  It often seems women stop talking about the beauty of modesty and go straight to a list of rules.  Suddenly, I must decide what my stance is on the pants vs. skirts debate, the sleeveless vs. sleeves conundrum, and grow a love of cardigans because one must be thrown over every outfit I wear. 
Blech.
One of my favorite shows is “What Not to Wear” on TLC.  Women are provided a fashion and beauty makeover after receiving encouragement and love from their family and friends.  The hosts, Stacy and Clinton, teach the women how to appropriately dress their bodies, often in shapes, fabrics, and colors they wouldn’t have previously considered.  During the last minutes of the show, the women unveil their new look to their family, usually gliding into the room with their heads held high and huge smiles on their faces.  They have gained confidence, reassurance of their beauty, and delight in their appearance.  When I think of this show, I wish we could do “Modesty: What TO Wear” for our culture.     
The Catechism has a very simple guideline for us regarding modesty and fashion:  “(2524) The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another.”  Instead of a fast-and-hard rule, the Church leaves this decision to us and our formed consciences.  No need for all the in-fighting and warring I mentioned up above.  Wear clothing that fits you properly.  Wear clothing that flatters you. Wear clothing that makes you feel beautiful!  Because you are beautiful!
   
We live in an immodest culture.  I think this stems from two things: unease/disbelief in personal beauty and failure of the fashion industry.  Wouldn’t it be refreshing to live in a culture where women are confident of their beauty?  Many women believe that they are not beautiful because they don’t look like supermodels or actresses who work out three hours a day.  We don’t look like the standard of beauty, so we must “rank” lower.  To make up for this lower “ranking,” women try to look sexy at all times.    

In addition, there is no uniform shape or size to women, yet we shop at the same stores where clothing, made with a generic, one-size-fits-all-mentality, is supposed to fit our different body types.  This doesn’t work.  I see a lot of women in ill-fitting clothes: tops too tight, shorts too big, shoes too clunky.  Their bodies look disproportionate.  I see women who have given up on their femininity.  From behind, they look exactly like men, dressed in men’s clothing.  When clothes were made in the home and tailored to the body, I think modesty and beauty were easier to achieve and believe.  Now, we must shop with a trained, discerning eye, knowing what fits us well and flatters our figures.
The Catechism says modesty “protects the mystery of persons…”  It encourages patience, time, effort, and commitment in relationships.  It curbs unhealthy curiosity, and makes ones discreet in manner and behavior. (2522)  In my opinion, as it protects the heart of a woman, it also slowly unveils the true beauty of her, and makes her makes her confident and relaxed in this.  She no longer has to fight to make rank or compete with others to affirm her beauty.  
I love this quote from Eva Luna by Isabel Allende: “I stopped examining myself in the mirror to compare myself to the perfect beauties of movies and magazines; I decided I was beautiful – for the simple reason that I wanted to be. And then never gave the matter a second thought.”  Modesty allows a woman to recognize that she is beautiful because God made her the way, and then she never has to give her beauty another negative thought. 

Men, you can help us in our quest to dress modesty.  If our beauty inspires your senses instead of assaulting you, let us know.  Give us that compliment.  Affirm our beauty and our dignity.

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