Seven years ago, young women in the Olathe Kansas Stake approached a major retail chain over the issue of modest prom dresses. In response, the retailer granted them a fashion show in which the teenage girls modeled their own designs.
The result? Wire services picked up the local newspaper coverage, and soon youth and parents from as far away as England and China were contacting the young women with expressions of gratitude and comments, "It's about time."
The Church News ran a full-color spread on the young women and their achievements in the April 28, 2001, issue.
Now, fast forward seven years and what do you have in the lives of those young women? Missions, marriage and motherhood. And they have not forgotten one of the most powerful lessons they gained from their experience — the power of example. Liz Christensen Evans was 18 when she was Laurel president in the Red Bridge Ward. Ashley Hamrick Blackwell was 17. Together, they helped the Laurels, under direction of priesthood and Young Women leaders, develop a presentation they called "Evaluate" for officials of a major retail chain, Nordstrom.
Liz and Ashley are among many in the Church willing to lead by example — in the community and even on the national and international level. They are joined by such examples as Carmen Rasmusen of "American Idol" fame and Katie Millar, Miss Utah 2006. (Please see "Standing for standards," Jan. 7, 2006, Church News about Carmen Rasmusen, and a related article on this page about Katie Millar standing up to Miss America Pageant officials on the issue of modesty.)
And all of them seem to have similar messages: Know who you are and don't be afraid to be yourself.
"It has been a delight to watch these beautiful young women as they left for college, graduated and married in the temple," recalled Cynthia Cockriel, Young Women president in the Red Bridge Ward in Kansas when the young women developed Evaluate. "As the time approached for their weddings, their wardrobes already reflected the lovely modest women they are today.
"This past fall, (the younger girls who were Beehives at the time) left for college. As I watched them leave home and begin the next stage in life, they stayed true to their convictions concerning modesty."
Sister Cockriel's daughter, Amanda, was 14 at the time. "She looked up to the Laurels and watched them and emulated them. How grateful I was, as a mother and as a Young Women leader, for the righteous examples of these young women."
One of these Laurels was Liz Evans. The member of the Hingham Ward, Hingham Massachusetts Stake, with her husband, Travis, Sister Evans said that the first time she realized she was being watched was when she returned home for Christmas break during her first year in college.
"Those girls (still at home) wanted to know what I was up to and they talked about (modesty). I realized people are paying attention."
Now a mother of a 15-month-old son, she admitted she is especially nervous about rearing daughters with the changes in standards just in the seven years since Evaluate.
"The best thing to do is to teach by example. If I've taught them correctly and they see how I dress they, it is hoped, will make the right decisions."
She told of a decision she had to make when a group of friends wanted to go swimming, but the only swimming suit available for her was a two-piece. She went swimming but wore a shirt over the suit to stay modest.
Another of the Laurels, Ashley Blackwell, also remembers what she learned. Today she is back in the Red Bridge Ward in the Olathe stake with her husband, Bryon, and their 6-month-old daughter, Ainsley Eliana. "I remember in high school, that I chose to wear (modest) dresses to prom, I had several people come to me and say, 'Ashley, you look so classy."'
From this, she learned, "You can dress modestly and fit in with society and you're not made fun of."
She also emphasized that setting an example of modesty was never about preaching or being condescending. "The purpose of this was for us to make a stand for people who felt like we do."
"When a group of people feels strongly about something and (do something) about it, it's amazing what a difference it can make."
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