Teens focusing on 'true beauty' through less sexy fashions

In Charlotte and across the country, young girls, their mothers and even clothing companies are covering up.

Teens and parents fighting over what is appropriate is nothing new. But now, girl-centric groups are working to arm girls with the awareness and self-confidence to say no to the sexy.

Victoria's Secret CEO Sharen Turney recently said her company has gotten too sexy. Declining profits prompted her to examine the company's Pink line (marketed to younger women and girls) and call for a return to a more sophisticated brand.

After Miley Cyrus, 15, walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards in an age-appropriate (but still glam) Valentino gown, she won praise from Kimora Lee Simmons, Baby Phat clothing designer and mother of two girls.

In Charlotte, more than 65 high-school students are participating in Pure Fashion, an international faith-based program that recognizes "true beauty."

"We're looking for more than what Hollywood is portraying as acceptable," says Kathy Comer, 41, the local organizer. "It's so cool and acceptable now to be modest. And that doesn't mean being frumpy."

The ecumenical program debuted in Charlotte in September. It was started in 1999 by a lay Catholic group and has chapters in more than 25 cities, including Raleigh, N.C.

Promoting positive self-image

The sexy backlash needs to start at home, says Kelly Finley, 35, mother of a 6-year-old daughter and a lecturer in the women's and gender studies program at UNC Charlotte.

"If you want for a daughter to starting loving herself, we have to start loving women as a collective," she says. "It starts with (a mother) not talking bad about others, or about herself."

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has been a leader in encouraging positive self-image in women.

A 12-year-old girl tends to look to 16- and 17-year-olds for style cues, Finley says.

It's not just the clothing causing friction between teens and parents -- the message the brands are sending out are just as controversial.

"The appeal in clothing like that is that their parents hate it, and the girls eat it up," Finley says. "Who wants to be 15 and wearing something that their 45-year-old mother thinks they should?"

'Everyone is going classy'

Some of the Charlotte Pure Fashion girls politely dismiss teen queen Cyrus as a fashion role model, instead saying they take style cues from Audrey Hepburn and models Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen.

"Everyone is going classy," says Allison Ditmore, 14, a student at Charlotte Latin. "Belly shirts are out of style. It's easier to not dress immodestly now."

We're seeing a return to silhouettes that are more pleasing for teens and their parents: high-waisted pants, knee-length shorts and flowy skirts and dresses.

"Even though we've seen everything from micro-mini to knee, calf and ankle lengths, we believe our customer wants lengths that hover around the knee to midcalf at the longest," Michael Fink, women's fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, told Newsday recently.

Their turn on the runway

The Charlotte Pure Fashion group assembled recently at St. Patrick Cathedral in Dilworth to practice for their season-ending fashion show.

The girls took turns walking down a runway to Natasha Bedingfield's "Pocketful of Sunshine" while getting a lesson in runway etiquette.

"It's nice to be with different girls who are going through the same things you are," says Chrisjon Ficklin, 15, a student at Charlotte Country Day School.

Some parents said they've noticed a change since their daughters began the program.

"(Pure Fashion) started with who the girls were on the inside," says Cheryl Nebel, whose daughter Amber, 14, attends Weddington High School. "But they didn't leave out how important fashion and beauty is to all of us."

Attending a Pure Fashion show prompted Comer -- mother to sons Braxton, 12, and Walker, 10, and daughter Lydia, 8 -- to start the Charlotte chapter.

Since October, the group of 14- to 18-year-olds from a variety of religious backgrounds and public and private schools has met monthly to discuss topics such as public speaking, manners and personal presentation.

The fashion show April 13 at the Westin Charlotte quickly sold out its 760-seat capacity. Participants will walk the runway -- some in heels for the first time -- in modest clothing from Dillard's.

Comer says: "(We want them to have) the confidence to say, 'This is who I am, and I'm cool, and I don't have to dress for others, I dress for myself.'"