PHOTO: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
More models are making a change by leaving the runway for their faith. Young Christian women in the fashion industry are realizing their Christ-centered beliefs are oftentimes compromised and now they're not afraid to speak out against the ugly side of glamour.
Committed to sharing a message of positive self-image and modesty, Nicole Weider left her modeling and acting Hollywood lifestyle for a higher calling. After modeling in Portland, Ore., since the age of 5, she made the jump to Los Angeles in search of fulfilling her dreams. "I was so infatuated with the fame game – it all looked so glamorous – but in the end it was quite the opposite," writes Weider on her blog, projectinspired.com.
Her time in the fashion industry, which she calls "the devil's playground," was spent reveling at the most coveted in-crowd nightclubs and rubbing elbows with high-profile celebrities. Yet the glitz and glam was only a mere facade of her life as an it-girl.
"Although I was running around with the cool kids and living the life of a starlet, I was still a small town girl in my heart," Weider writes. "Not only that, but something never felt quite right when it came time to actually audition. Each time a camera was focused on me, I didn't feel prepared enough, pretty enough, or completely ready to be scrutinized by the people who make it all happen," she adds.
Weider is just one of a slew of women to leave it all behind despite the perks modeling can have. The most recent to join the exclusive group of models-turned-Christian spokesperson is former lingerie model Kylie Bisutti. In 2009, Bisutti beat out 10,000 girls to win a Victoria's Secret Model Search competition and soon after, she found herself living her dream. She surprised the industry and girls who would kill to have her opportunity when she decided to stop being a model. She then made headlines recently for her new book, I'm No Angel: From Victoria's Secret Model to Role Model, that describes how she left modeling. Her decision to leave and settle down in Montana was triggered by her belief in God and her marriage. Now, she lives an alternatively different yet fulfilling life without the opportunities she once experienced at the height of her career.
While these women hail from once-upon-a-time elite backgrounds, the fashion industry has taken a toll on other Christian women. Jackie Panameno grew up Pentecostal and similarly to Weider and Bisutti, she left her hometown in Virginia for the Hollywood hills. Upon enrolling at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and a short stint at the Art Institute of Dallas, her desire to pursue a career in fashion became increasingly ardent.
"The fashion industry is a cold, egotistical environment. It's all about making a name for yourself and sucking up to others and stepping on people to get where you want to be," said Panameno. She admits considering Vogue Magazine and Women's Wear Daily her bible at one point. But along with her fashion obsession came disparity when she doubted her potential. "I spent most of my day thinking and worrying about my appearance. Was I skinny enough? Was my outfit trendy? Were my teeth white enough? These thoughts consumed my mind," admits Panameno.
Her epiphany to leave the industry occurred when she moved back to Virginia and decided to practice her faith once again. "As a Christian I felt I constantly fought this other person in me and the principles I had been raised on completely contradicted what I had become in the fashion industry. On the outside it all looks glamorous, but on the inside it's an ugly industry," she said.
For Weider, life took a turn when she fell into a depression when all the odds were against her. Before being rejected, disillusioned and humiliated during modeling jobs, she was at a Victoria's Secret commercial shoot where the reality of being in the fashion industry became surreal."There was a photographer's assistant at the shoot who was showing me the touch-ups he was doing to Giselle Bundchen's photos. He was making her thighs thinner and was smudging away her freckles," said Weider. "I was up close to these beautiful models during the shoot and I just couldn't believe he was telling me how much he loved his job," she added.
She also admits to having anxiety attacks, feeling insecure and recounts a time when she was rejected during a commercial audition. "I went in for a leading cereal company's audition and before the girls could enter the room to read their lines, there was a scale they had to step on to make sure they weren't over their weight limit according to their height." She adds, "When I stepped on, the woman took my paper and said 'thank you.' They sent me away for being two pounds over."
These days, Weider remains in Los Angeles and works full-time on her website acting as a mentor to her devout audience of Christian young women. "I have a God-awakening message and I want girls to know the industry is so manufactured, nothing what they see or read is real."