When I was in middle school, I found out that slavery still exists.
In fact, every morning, millions of men, women, and children around the world wake up trapped in a system of human trafficking. Faced with the same bleak reality day after day, their dreams of freedom remain just that — dreams. I knew it didn’t have to be this way, but if anything was going to change, ordinary people, people like you and me, needed to get involved.
So at 16, I decided to do something about it.
For one year, I wore the same black dress every day. It was my way of raising awareness about and money to help end human trafficking across the globe.
One dress, one year. It was a year-long journey that I chose. People who are enslaved don’t have many choices, so surely I could limit my clothing choices for a year to help them be free.
While my experience wasn’t nearly the same thing as what those who are enslaved face, it was a connection I could make to help others understand human trafficking. I then asked people to partner with me by giving to one of six organizations working to end modern-day slavery.
Using the black dress as my primary piece, I added other clothing and accessories to create different looks, and each day I posted a photo of my outfit on my blog.
By the end of the year, I’d worn that same black dress in 366 different ways: of course I would pick a leap year!
I went into that year thinking I would do something big for God. I was going to raise $100,000 to help end the fight against modern-day slavery. My blog and my dress were going to change the world.
I thought The Dress Project would give me value and make me special. I wanted to prove that I was better than other people my age. After all, unlike many of my peers, I was thinking about important things. Sacrificing normal clothes for a year or talking about slavery or challenging others to fight for the same cause was supposed to make me important too.
Instead, the year I spent in the dress changed me in ways I never expected. It taught me to pay attention to fashion, and it altered the way I see myself.
That year, the people who partnered with me gave $8,615 to International Justice Mission (IJM), Not for Sale, the A21 Campaign, Compassion International, Restore International, and Love146.
The money was used to rescue people, provide them with rehabilitation services and legal counsel, and prevent human trafficking in vulnerable communities.
I’d always been told that pride goes before the fall, but I think some of us fall harder than others. I didn’t come anywhere close to my fund-raising goal. Throughout the year I felt like I should have been doing more, but I couldn’t figure out what — or how.
Nothing seemed to go the way I wanted it to. It didn’t make me feel better like I thought it would. Instead, the dress helped me see myself for who I was (and who I still am): a girl who needed to be set free from perfectionism and pride and guilt and the notion that I could buy my way into God’s good graces with my grand plans.
I couldn’t. All I could do was hope that somehow, even when I felt unlovable, that He loved me still. The beautiful part was that in my darkness and my doubt, God met me.
He’s still meeting me.
The Dress Project was a way that a high school girl helped raise money for organizations that are bringing freedom to people worldwide. During that year, though, I also discovered how much I needed the freedom God can bring. Freedom is for all of us, and it’s something all of us can be part of extending to others. But, I discovered, it is only something we can participate in when we know that we are loved, and that we are already free.
This is an excerpt from Bethany’s book, One Dress, One Year. You can get your own copy of the book right here.