AVOW breakfast hosts former beauty queen and model
By Connie Cissell
EAST SYRACUSE — At first glance Brenda Sharman, Miss Georgia 1990, looks like any tall, blond and gorgeous model. When she speaks, however, what comes across is a new, fervent Catholic who is ready to challenge the entire beauty industry. Sharman’s livelihood is immeshed in looking good. She and her husband, also a model, have worked for years in an industry that defines society’s idea of skin-deep beauty. After converting to her husband’s religion, Catholicism, and after the birth of her first son a dozen years ago, Sharman said she began to rethink the concept of good looks and began to wonder what God might view as beauty.
Sharman presented her ideas and her organization, Pure Fashion, to the 100 women gathered at Justin’s Grill on March 15. Many of the women at the breakfast brought their young daughters along. The event was sponsored by AVOW (Advocating the Vocation of Women), a committee of the Syracuse Diocese’s Commission on Women in the Church and Society. Sharman also spoke to seventh and eighth graders at Christian Brothers Academy and was a guest on the Jim Reith Show on WSYR radio while she was in Syracuse.
Pure Fashion offers a fun way for teenage girls to understand their inherent dignity and to realize they can maintain that dignity. The modesty movement is catching on judging by Sharman’s appearance on the “Dr. Phil Show” and the ever-expanding head count at the group’s annual fashion show in Atlanta. Through wearing clothing that can be found in any department store, young girls learn how to put together attractive outfits without showing more skin than cloth.
Eleven-year-old Faith Grifo came to the breakfast with her mother, Patty. She has her own trick for figuring out whether or not she should wear a shirt to school.
“Before I go to school, I raise my arm up like I’m going to answer a question,” Faith said. ‘If it shows skin, then I don’t wear it.”
Faith might be considered an exception in a society where almost anything goes and young girls are reading magazine headlines that would have been considered pornographic 40 years ago.
The first question Sharman asked at the breakfast was, “How do we become beautiful in the eyes of God as opposed to the eyes of the world?”
Sharman spoke about her own story and how she grew up in an agnostic and loving family and began modeling during high school. Afterwards, she continued her career and met her husband when she was 19. They married four years later. She became involved with the beauty pageant through a friend. “She said, ‘I’ll help you,’ and there was a pretty nice prize package,” Sharman joked.
When Sharman became pregnant with her first of three sons 12 years ago, she said she started to wonder what she would say when her child got older and began to ask her questions about important issues. “I began to look at world religions. My husband was raised Catholic and we had a Catholic wedding so I started to look towards Catholicism. And Mary Magdelene and I had a lot in common,” Sharman said.
Sharman said that when she first began to form a relationship with God it was very emotional for her. “I would be crying at church,” Sharman said. “They probably wondered why I just didn’t go to the crying room. I think it’s like that when you accept your faith when you are older. You understand the depth of what you’ve been given. I chose this religion. I’ve studied it. I believe it. I live it.”
Because of her conversion to Catholicism, Sharman looked for a way to serve the church by using her experience as a fashion model. She is based in Atlanta and Pure Fashion was derived from a small group of concerned women there who decided to change the way girls view themselves and also the way young boys view them. Since 2005, the annual Pure Fashion Show has doubled each year in size.
After explaining where Sharman came from, she talked about what young girls today experience when it comes to appearance, images and perceptions. Sharman received an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog (a retailer for young, hip fashion) and she described the models and illustrations inside as pornography. “Everything St. Paul says don’t do, was in that catalogue,” she said.
During her presentation, Sharman produced a list of “Me-Attitudes” spoofing the Beatitudes. One of them was, “Blessed are the size 4-6 for you can wear whatever you want.” Her hope is that young girls can recognize that they do not have to dress immodestly to be a part of their age group. Through character education, girls learn that they can lead others into sin by the way they dress, act and speak.
“What they wear sends a message and they can be pretty without being provocative,” Sharman said. “A woman’s beauty is very powerful.”
Sharman went through a series of examples that compared today’s culture to that of 30 or 40 years ago. “The number of television scenes with sexual content has gone from about 1,900 in 1998 to 3,800 in 2006,” Sharman explained.
The women viewed a powerpoint presentation that quoted headlines from a 1970 Seventeen magazine. The old headlines read: “What your voice tells about you,” “Poems and reports from worldwide places” and “Hurry up hairdos.” In contrast Sharman provided headlines from a 2004 Teen magazine that included: “The sexiest years,” “On girls, geeks and going all the way” and “Turn on secrets he’ll never tell you.”
And, Sharman quoted Pope John Paul II saying that, “The evolution of modesty in women requires some initial insight into the male psychology.”
She described a “20/20” episode that said the portion of the brain that controls sex is two times larger in a male than a female. “It said that a man has thoughts with sexual content every 52 seconds. Women must respectfully remember it’s not fair for us to run around with outfits that are not going to help their purity of heart,” Sharman said.
For more information about Pure Fashion, check the Web site: www.purefashion.com. The AVOW group also hosts study groups across the diocese for women to examine and explore their own womanhood. It is open to women of all ages, faiths and walks of life to be inspired by the depth and authenticity of the church’s teaching on the human person. They have a new Web site: www.dignityofwomen.org, available for browsing. Anyone interested in finding out more about AVOW can call (315) 655-3837 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.