Several weeks ago, the small town of Woodstock, Va., became the capital of the fashion world. The New York glitterati might not have noticed, but I did. For a few hours on a picturesque Saturday afternoon in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, a nondescript gymnasium served as the epicenter of true beauty.
The occasion was an unusual fashion show hosted by young women in the local congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were joined by friends from Front Royal, Va., and Charlestown and Harpers Ferry, W. Va.
In the interest of full disclosure, the idea came from my best friend and one of my all-time favorite people: Kodi Wright. But after attending the event, I would have written this column even if my wife hadn’t been involved; the experience was that powerful.
Kodi currently serves as president of the Young Women organization in Woodstock. For months, she and the other adults she works with had been hearing spiritual whispers that the girls needed a powerful, visual reminder of what true beauty really is.
It’s hardly a secret. Loud voices of opposition tell our daughters that beauty is defined by magazine covers, billboards and shopping-mall mannequins. These corrosive voices shout that in order to be noticed, girls must dress provocatively and expose themselves, in more ways than one. To be loved, they must give away what should be held most precious.
Thankfully, we know there are other voices. But instead of shouting, they teach. They combine to tell our precious young women that their true beauty comes from within and their divinity comes from above.
My wife and her fellow leaders are members of that loving choir. Feeling the need to amplify their message, they decided to organize a fashion show that would highlight modest, but fashionable outfits. They wanted to demonstrate in a memorable way that women of all ages can feel confident and beautiful while respecting and honoring themselves.
The highly successful event took a balance of teamwork, prayer and good, old-fashioned ingenuity.
They worked for weeks with a local consignment shop to find attractive casual ensembles to supplement the girls’ own wardrobes. Another group of young women from a neighboring Virginia congregation of Front Royal became involved and offered to showcase a collection of modest but lovely prom dresses.
They found volunteers to hang posters around town, help with makeup and hair, and one of the fathers built a runway that would lead from the stage and extend into the audience. New York’s finest fashionistas would have been impressed.
Young men served as greeters, handing out programs and welcoming guests. Others ran the spotlights or stood at the sides of the stairs as escorts, helping the models safely down and onto the runway.
I had the honor of saying a few words at the beginning and end of the show. But nothing I said will last in the hearts and minds of those who were present that day. And though we took a few pictures, I know that the most expensive cameras and the most-advanced lenses could not capture the spirit and the spiritual clarity we experienced.
Moments before the show officially began, one of the leaders decided to invite the much younger girls to walk the runway as a kind of pre-show warm-up act. These beautiful girls, some as young as 3, walked up and down as the spotlights followed them and their families cheered. I will never forget the shining looks on their faces as they strutted along.
When the little ones stepped aside, the older girls, ages 12-18, took their turns. You wouldn’t have known that most had never been in a pageant or shined under the bright lights. They walked with confidence, both looking and feeling beautiful.
As I watched the show, I considered the popular belief that there are unseen angels among us, quietly doing good and reflecting the love of heaven. I believe this, too. But after watching the radiance of those young women, I am convinced that not all angels are unseen. I saw 20 of them walking right through the crowd.
It was a glimpse of divinity, a scene of purity and a peek into heaven.
To the women who conceived and organized the event, I suggest that a hefty deposit has been made in their celestial accounts. To the parents, friends and public who supported the event and cheered for these young women like they were international superstars, I know that you have made a significant, perhaps eternal difference in their lives.
As a father of two of the young women who participated, I know that it was one of the most-important activities that my daughters have ever been a part of. They looked and felt extraordinary. Like the other models, they beamed and seemed to reflect the will of heaven.
I walked away from the event that day wishing every single young woman could have been there to experience beauty defined in a truly celestial way. I was overcome with the notion that every young woman of every shape, size, race and religion deserves to hear that they are beautiful.
Obviously, I cannot tell them all one-by-one. But I can commit to joining the choir. I can add my voice to those telling women of all ages they are beautiful daughters of God with a divine heritage.
Will you join the choir, too?
Virginia young women light up runway at unique fashion show
On May 5, 2012, young women from Woodstock, Va., hosted a fashion show highlighting how true beauty isn't found on magazine covers or New York catwalks. The true definitions of beauty are divine and eternal, not based on fads or trends. This video is a collection of photos from that special event and is set to the song "Gold" by Christian artist Britt Nicole.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The Wedding Letters." He can be reached at [email protected] or www.jasonfwright.com.