June 14, 2013

Bishop Chatard grad, friends launch a different women’s magazine

Shown is the June/July cover of Verily. 2006 Bishop Chatard graduate Janet Sahm is one of the co-creators of the new magazine. (Submitted photo)

Shown is the June/July cover of Verily. 2006 Bishop Chatard graduate Janet Sahm is one of the co-creators of the new magazine. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Janet Sahm had reached a crossroads in her life.

Just 24 at the time, Sahm seemed to be the living the dream that matched her interest in fashion and her passion for style.

The 2006 graduate of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis was living in New York City and working as an intern for Elle, the world’s best-selling fashion magazine. Yet she had a change of heart as she worked for one of the many popular magazines that consistently promote an image of women that focuses on looking “hot,” losing weight quickly and becoming “more sexy.”

“About two years ago, while I was interning at Elle magazine’s fashion news department and writing for Elle.com, I went through a major reconversion in my life, which set me on a completely different path,” recalls Sahm, 26, a member of the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York.

“I began to live in a way that was consistent with the desires of my heart and my faith. As I was discovering who I was and my inherent worth, I realized there wasn’t a women’s fashion publication that was both high production quality and truly good for women.”

So Sahm and four female friends from the young adult Catholic community in New York started to develop plans for a magazine that would strive for those two goals. The result is Verily, a women’s magazine that debuted recently with its June/July issue.

The 2010 graduate of Fordham University in New York recently reflected on the magazine, the concept of beauty for women, and the influence of her Catholic faith on her life and her work.

Janet SahmQ. Part of the inspiration for the magazine was in response to a survey by the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty that noted that 75 percent of teenaged girls felt “depressed, guilty and shameful about spending just three minutes leafing through a fashion magazine.” Can you talk about those results?

A. “As three minutes doesn’t allow much to read, the study highlights the powerful effects of visual messaging. These results are very real and very sobering. Magazines, especially, have the ability to define what is beautiful and desirable. The quick headlines that scream, ‘look hot,’ ‘lose fat fast,’ and ‘feel more sexy now’ speak to women on the premise that they are not enough.”

Q. The magazine’s website refers to a research paper called “Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” written by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania. At a time when women are told they can have it all in life, why do you think women are experiencing a decline in happiness?

A. “Well, there are many different reasons and opinions about this, but I love the letter [that] Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in 1995 to all women, exhorting them to employ their ‘feminine genius.’ I would encourage all women to read it. He even boldly states, ‘Situations where women are prevented from offering their full potential and from offering the wealth of their gifts should therefore be considered profoundly unjust, not only to women themselves, but to society as a whole.’

“Unfortunately, our society no longer recognizes the importance of the truly feminine. I think women’s contribution to society is to be open, receptive and sensitive to the deepest human needs. The road back to female happiness lies in living our lives, not in spite of our femininity, but because of it.”

Q. How do you hope that Verily will offer a different perspective of life and self-image for young women?

A. “Verily is providing a space for conversations on what it means to live as authentic women. We feature fashion that complement rather than compromise a woman’s dignity, relationship advice that goes well beyond surface attraction, and forthright journalism that tackles issues that matter to us most.

“Verily features real women and employs models from a range of healthy body-weights for our fashion spreads. Whereas other magazines Photoshop to achieve the ‘ideal’ body type or leave a maximum of three wrinkles, we never alter the body or face structure of our models. We firmly believe that the unique features of women contribute to their beauty and therefore don’t need to be removed or altered.”

Q. As a young woman, what have been the challenges and struggles for you in terms of the image that our popular culture often presents for young women?

A. “The struggle for me, and I think for many women, is that image is everything, and a particularly narrow image. We desire to be beautiful, to be attractive in the best sense of the word. All too often however, this desire becomes distorted—‘beauty’ devolves into ‘sexy.’

“We are not denying our sexual identity and attractiveness as women, but affirming we are so much more than just physically attractive.”

Q. What is your perception of what young women want from their lives?

A. “Women want to lead happy, fulfilling lives. We want to be beautiful inside and out in the best sense of the word, and we want to be loved, to know we are worth fighting for.”

Q. How has your Catholic faith and the faith of your co-editors helped shape the approach of the magazine?

A. “Verily is a secular publication and is a product of our desire to be better women. Our faith greatly influences our identity and worldview, yet many of the topics and areas we discuss in the magazine come from reason, empirical data, studies, and the stories of real women. There are layers of evangelization, and we approach it indirectly, meeting women from different backgrounds and life experiences where they are, so as to help them reach the core of who they were created to be.”

Q. What is the approach of the magazine regarding advice, articles and discussions about relationships?

A. “It is interesting that most young people still have a strong desire to be married at some point in their lives, and yet there is a lack of direction that addresses how to actually achieve that goal and have a truly healthy and loving marriage.

“It’s especially difficult for young women today as there seems to be a one-note conversation in magazines when it comes to relationships—a focus on sex tips, manipulation, and how to ‘Get and Keep a Man.’ Verily offers thought-provoking guidance and encouragement for long-lasting, fruitful relationships.”

Q. What are your hopes for the magazine?

A. “We aim to be a viable option on the newsstands, but we know that will be a long road and have our work cut out for us. In order to get to that point, we need subscribers. People ask us all the time how they can help, and we just respond, ‘Subscribe for yourself, family and friends, and help us spread the word.’ ”

Q. What are your hopes for young women?

A. “I want to invite women to come to understand their own worth and to become the best versions of themselves—to live, love, relate, and even dress in a way that reflects this profound understanding. For so many young women, I want to say, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way. You are beautiful and worth so much more than you can imagine.’ ”

(For more information about Verily, visit the website at www.verilymag.com.)

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