Prudish publication makes its debut

Return to modesty
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  October 10, 2007

ELIZA: Modestly fashioned, modestly sized.

Last month, I gave my biceps a break, skipped the 840-page fall issue of Vogue, and instead perused a more modestly sized — and modestly fashioned — new mag, Eliza, which hit the stands with its debut issue this summer.

A casual reader may see the rail-thin model on the cover (who also happens to be Eliza’s editor, Summer Bellessa), in combination with inane feature articles such as “Get Your Yoga Om,” and think this is just another Cosmo knock-off. But it’s more than that — it’s Bellessa’s answer to today’s female fashion choices, which this member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints perceives as provocative, skimpy, and tacky. One senses that the Utah-based Eliza crowd feels the same way about modern female behavior in general.

“Your interaction with fashion tells a story about you,” Eliza tells us. “It’s not a tale of fickle trends or pretending to be someone else. It’s not about uncomfortable dresses and impossible heels. It’s not about titillating styles and risqué behavior ... It’s about expressing yourself, not exposing yourself.”

You won’t see any bikinis in Eliza’s swimsuit spread, just one-pieces and a few belly-covering tankinis. No cleavage shows up in the “Layers in the Sun” photo spread. And in the special “modest wedding” section, long-sleeved gowns replace trendy strapless versions.

Truth be told, lots of the clothes are hot — I’d happily don most of the dresses and swimsuits featured in the magazine, and feel quite fashionable doing so, in a decidedly vintage-hippie-chic way. But there’s something irksome about modesty that’s dictated from a detached source — something that feels uncomfortably condescending and conservative.

That discomfort is only compounded by articles such as: “Guys Guide: Top Nine Guy Movies You Should Know About” (since when is Ghostbusters a guy movie?!), or “We’ve Got Issues: Child Bride or Old Maid? Is There a Right Age to Get Married?” — both of which feel distinctly old-fashioned, as if I’ve time-traveled back to the ’50s.

It’s not surprising that Eliza’s second issue, coming out this fall, will feature an interview with Wendy Shalit, author of 2000’s Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue and this year’s Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to Be Good, and webmistress behind, “an informal community of young women who don’t have a voice in the mainstream media.” Shalit is a lightning rod in her own right, a champion of the school that accuses modern women of confusing promiscuity and crassness with sexual liberation and feminism.

Where some women might claim that they are expressing themselves by exposing themselves, the likes of Eliza and Shalit step in to declare that impossible. And in doing so, Eliza becomes more than a demure fashion magazine — it enters a delicate social debate that pits women against women, sluts against saints, tackiness against tradition.

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