This is my mother's high school graduation picture. Doesn't she look like a movie star? Everyone looked glamorous in portraits taken in the 1940s and '50s, didn't they? But, still, really... while my Mom was truly lovely, inside and out, she was just a simple country girl from rural North Carolina, prettily freckled, with auburn hair and a decided tendency toward wearing plaid. She had nothing whatsoever in common with a Hollywood Startlette -- except for her glamorous senior picture.
Back in Mom's day, everyone wanted to look like Audrey or Liz or Grace. And why not? Their images were not necessarily untarnished, but the persona that exuded from their publicity shots was graceful, feminine, and really, truly beautiful. They appealed to our naturally ingrained idea of aesthetics, and with a practiced hand at makeup, a carefully chosen wardrobe, and a phographer who knew how to get the look, almost any girl of my mother's day could look -- and feel -- like a movie star -- at least for her senior portraits.
But, oh my stars! Perish the thought that any of my daughters would want to look like a movie star nowadays!
Not to say that modern movie stars aren't beautiful women; many really are. But, a large majority of the publicity shots they circulate are neither attractive, nor particularly dignified. They can certainly "clean up" well when they want to, but, more often than not, their dirty laundry is hanging out for everyone to see, figuratively and literally. The classic beauties of our day, in the media, and very often out here in the real world, are either lost under faddy attempts to be extreme and "cutting edge" or they're purposely blase'. And they leave nothing to the imagination, if you know what I mean.
It's shameful. What a distraction from the real beauty God has given them.
The classic beauties of my mother's day were worthy of imitation -- if not always in their lifestyle, usually in their appearance -- while today's teenagers have women like Lady Gaga and Brittany Speers for role models. Heaven help us. And, though, most teenage girls don't try to imitate Lady Gaga in their senior pictures, it's unfortunate that her media popularity forms part of the background against which girls today form their tastes -- and their values. This worries me, because it's practically impossible to completely insulate our children from what goes on in the world -- and it's really not a good idea to even try. Kids have to know what they're inheriting from us, and what they have a responsibility to try to fix if they're going to make their world better.
But what's a Catholic mother to do?
I have my mother's senior picture displayed, along with many images of the Mother of God -- all over the house-- in hopes that these are the models our girls will use to compare against what they see in the world. I want the gentle smiling face of the Blessed Virgin, in her purity and modesty, to form the background of their decision-making, every morning when they get dressed. I want them to remember the beautiful, modest image of my mother's senior portrait and aspire to that kind of dignified and graceful beauty.
It's also a good exercise to discreetly comment to the children (the boys and girls) about someone who is inappropriately dressed, judging the outfit, mind you, and not the person. We say things like, "Well, that would be a really cute shirt if it were a couple sizes bigger," or that dress would be perfect with a satin and lace neckline and sleeves, wouldn't it?" And we make sure to comment on well-chosen, modest outfits, too. The Sisters, especially, point this out to the young people, complimenting them to encourage them in wholesome choices.
And, not the least important, we just simply don't buy clothes that are immodest. Just doesn't happen on my watch. When the children grow up and begin to buy their own clothes, I continue to observe and remark on how beautiful and how handsome they are -- and how their Guardian Angel would or would not be pleased with how they looked. And did they consider that when they got dressed this morning?
It's a choice we need to teach our children gently but firmly: Decide, dear children, to be beautiful inside and out.