Truth Be Told: America’s Next Top Model, #MeToo, and the Fashion Industry

It’s no secret that news of sexual assault and harassment is running rampant in today’s society. It seems that whenever you open social media or watch the news, there’s another report of shocking allegations, and it seems that this is only the tip of the iceberg.

As a woman and a Christian, I watched in horror as countless young women (and men) stepped forward to share their stories of #MeToo, and I couldn’t help but wonder.

How did we get here? How do we move forward? And, more importantly, how do we heal?

I’m no stranger to the objectification of women, as much as I wish that weren’t true. After my time on America’s Next Top Model, I arrived in New York ready to make my dreams of becoming a model a reality. My picture was still plastered on a billboard in Times Square, and I was yearning to find acceptance anywhere I could. I wanted to prove my worth to the world—and to myself—and it wasn’t long until I got the call that I’d booked a job posing for an international magazine.

I remember picking my outfit—a set of see-through lingerie that, quite frankly, left me humiliated—and walking across the warehouse to the photographer. He wanted me to look sexy and sultry, but I found myself feeling the opposite.

Instead of feeling worthy, beautiful, and wanted, I felt like an object. I felt used. I hated the countless eyes staring at my body, judging me from a whole host of unforeseen perspectives, and—standing in the limelight—I realized that my insecurities rapidly picked away at me until I had nothing left.

While the photographer kept clicking, I found myself looking down and realizing the truth: I’d become empty.

No one talks about the aftermath of being on a national reality TV show. Online trolls left comments on my beauty and my worth, and I was rapidly reduced from a human being to entertainment value. After ANTM’s cycle ended, I witnessed this degradation of human worth first hand. I saw contestants promised a multitude of things if they gave something in return.

Instead of a person, we’d become objects.

I learned first-hand of the lies of the beauty industry—the idea that life will be glamorous, beautiful, and lucrative—held nothing but false hopes and manipulation. Instead of seeking to enhance existing beauty, these industries are built on our insecurities. They take advantage of our flaws to pay their bills, and we’re left feeling like everything will be perfect if I can just achieve this.

Perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect thighs, perfect style. It’s perpetuated by the belief that beauty is a status symbol rather than something that radiates from within all of us, and it leaves so many of us destroyed in its wake. This type of distorted beauty serves only to objectify women on a multitude of levels until we begin to perceive ourselves as such. And ultimately the world begins to treat us as such.

Women, however, are not objects of enjoyment. We are not here to be used and abused. We are made in Christ’s image, and that’s how we should be treated. Let’s stand firmly against these acts of moral depravity. It is disgusting and heartbreaking to watch as countless people suffer, and it’s only when we come together to find solace and healing in Christ’s love that we are able to move on.

But how? How can we move on and move forward in a world that is crying out with pain?

The first step, I believe, rests in Christ’s love for us and his purpose for our lives. We are called to love one another and treat each other with respect, and it is in this commandment that we find hope for renewal and for the future. We find our freedom in the arms of our Savior, as Galatians 4:7 reminds us, “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”

As temples of the Holy Spirit, we must take into account that which is inside our hearts and minds far more than what rests on the outside. We need to reclaim our true beauty in Christ, allowing ourselves to be free of the shackles the world uses to hold so many of us down.

It’s critical for us to remember that this toxic abuse of power which so often leads to sexual misconduct goes strongly against Christ’s example for our lives. Instead of proclaiming the words and playing a pretty part for the sake of others, we need to embrace God’s purpose for our lives in an all-consuming way. It’s not enough to go through the motions.

I think Matthew 23:27 puts it best:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”

It’s time for us to stop focusing on the external and clean out these horrible behaviors from society, from the Church, and from our lives.

We’re told from a young age that we can do anything we want with our lives. The emphasis is on what we want, but—as Christians—we’re called to a radically different path. Instead of seeking the answers in ourselves, we must turn to God. It’s only in Him that we can find comfort and joy, and it’s only in His love that we can find beauty and healing in an increasingly broken world.

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Article written for and first appeared on Chispa Magazine.

Leah’s new book, The Other Side Of Beauty: Embracing God’s Vision for Love and True Worth can now be purchased here!

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