My haunting journey from fashion to faith

by Jennifer Strickland
(Lake Arrowhead, CA, USA)

Jennifer Strickland. author/speaker

Jennifer Strickland. author/speaker

When I was a little girl, people used to always stop my mother in the street and tell her I should become a model. Tall and lean, long blonde hair, sapphire eyes and unmarred skin: modeling seemed like a natural fit. At the age of eight, I started doing fashion shows, photo shoots and mannequin modeling. At seventeen, my career took off when I signed with Nina Blanchard of Los Angeles and she sent me to Europe.

During the next four years, my life was full with auditions, TV commercials and photo shoots. While attaining a degree from USC, I modeled all over Europe and Australia, appearing in countless fashion and beauty magazines, catalogues and campaigns.
So proud of their daughter?s success, my parents collected all of the magazines from the international newsstands and framed them in a huge collage on a wall at home. What they didn?t know was that I constantly found myself in dangerous situations abroad, even having to physically defend myself from clients, photographers and people on the street who were constantly propositioning me for sex.

I lived with models whose lives were riddled with eating disorders, drug abuse and sexual indiscretions; I dealt with continual criticism and rejection about my imperfections; and I too had begun drinking, smoking and doing drugs.

After college, I signed with two of the most influential modeling agencies in the world, FORD New York and FASHION Milan, and moved to Italy, ready to take Milan by storm and hit the runway. As the new face in town, I immediately began working with elite photographers, clients and designers, including the world-renowned Giorgio Armani. I opened his Giorgio and Emporio shows, showcasing his haute-culture and young women?s lines to the world. Armani chose to design the makeup for his 1995 Spring Giorgio Collection on my face, and wanted to hire me for a million dollar print campaign.

Yet, at this pinnacle of my career, this place from which there seemed no bounds to what I could achieve, I found myself strikingly unfulfilled. As I saw how the superficiality and flesh-obsessed world of fashion modeling destroyed the self-image of so many young women, and left even those that achieved success without a clear purpose, I began to have a nagging sense that there had to be more to life than this.

After Armani, my career skyrocketed to a frantic pace ? I went from studio to studio, country to country, every day dressing up to be a different person: different face, hair, clothes . . . until the reflection in the mirror revealed a dim resemblance of my former self. I began wondering who the woman in the mirror really was and what her value in the world could be.

Using drugs to quell the loneliness, starving myself for the shows, and being thousands of miles away from home, all began to catch up with me . . . and this fast-moving train to fame derailed in a painful crash that seemed to take every dream of my young girl?s heart out with its wake.

The ?beauty? that my career depended upon finally betrayed me: dark circles under my eyes, terrible acne, and a frame so thin that one could see all the ribs down my back; my face and body bore the toll of a business that treated me as a piece of plastic that could be painted up, broken apart and discarded at will. When my mother saw me over the holidays, she fearfully tried to feed my anorexic-thin body, and I put on a few pounds. But when Armani noticed my waist-line had changed, he outright fired me for the shows.

From there, my career took a downhill slide, and I found myself wandering the streets of Florence, Rome, and Siena, searching for the meaning of my life. In towering, majestic churches, I got down on my knees and cried out for love, without any hope or faith that my prayers would be answered.

I finally hit rock bottom while working in Munich ? while numbed with drugs and alcohol, I attempted to drown myself in the bathtub ? but little did I know that God had heard my cries and was right there, ready to pick up the pieces of my shattered life.

I soon met a series of strangers whose sage words changed the direction of my steps. By the beer gardens of Munich, I met a man who was handing out New Testaments; he told me about Christ, who loved me enough to die for me, and who rose again, proving his power over death ? and power over the darkness that had consumed my days. This man and his friends brought me to church, got me an English Bible, and God literally used him to save my life.

During this time, I also met a stranger on the street who boldly told me that I could not ?sell my beauty,? I could not sell my face, but that I needed to turn around and go back the way I came ? back home to my family where I belonged.

From nearly killing myself in my cold, empty apartment to climbing the snowy mountains of Germany, discovering a Savior that could give me a new life and the love I so yearned for, I experienced the miracle of being sought out by the Creator of the universe and rescued. In the pages of His Word, I found the true meaning of love and discovered the security that comes from being a child of God.

It has been ten years since I left the industry, and the Lord has truly transformed my life from the inside out. I have been extraordinarily blessed with two beautiful children and an incredible husband who encourages me to use my gifts for God?s glory. And God has given me a purpose ? to share his love with the lost, to tell the stories of my life that display so powerfully the beauty that God sees in the heart of every woman, no matter how broken, disheveled, or even perfect she may seem from the outside.

Through prayer and Bible study, I have discovered what it means to be His precious creation, His beloved daughter, His holy temple, His radiant light and His chosen ambassador in a lost and hurting world. It all begins with shifting our focus: instead of looking at ourselves through the ?eyes of Armani? ? the media?s image of perfect beauty ? or the eyes of men, the pictures in the magazines, the reflection in the mirror ? we learn to look at ourselves through the eyes of God.

It is only there, in His sight, that we can see our true reflection ? as immeasurably valuable and beautiful ? the women we have always wanted to be. When we finally see who we are In His Eyes, we truly begin to walk the radiant life.

To read about my recently published book, "Girl Perfect: an imperfect girl's journey to true perfection," and to learn
more about how God is using my life to inspire girls and women to shine from the inside out, go to:

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