I discovered Rev. Sarah Renfro’s blog after she quoted a part of The Pulpit Fiction Podcast in a post. I read her post because she quoted me, but was quickly drawn into her story. Her blog is called Embodying the Divine: Body Image, Media, and Faith. Sarah is a former fashion model, who is now a pastor preaching the good news of your body. In her blog, she not only goes to phenomenal resources, but she expresses her struggles and joys as a pastor, woman of faith, Mom, wife, and Beautiful Child of God. Her website also describes “body image workshops that dispel the myths of media and ‘ideal beauty’ in fashion magazines, and empower participants to claim their diverse and wonderful inner beauty given by God.”
I love her holistic approach to faith. As a father of two young girls, I am deeply invested in Sarah’s message. I want to share it with others, and encourage everyone to check out her blog, schedule her for a workshop, and like her facebook page. That’s enough of my words about her. Here’s her story:
I was born and raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I was active in youth group and worship. After high school, I left Kentucky to pursue modeling full-time, living in Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, and Europe for a bit. I had the opportunity to see the world, but at the same time, the fashion industry is competitive and harsh. I struggled with disordered eating and depression after constantly being told that I wasn’t good enough just as I was. I wasn’t thin enough or blond enough or big-busted enough or . . . I was the one of one percent of the population who is in the magazines and catalogs and on billboards and in commercials; yet, I had low self-esteem and a negative body image.
During my travels, I did not maintain a faith community. Oh sure, I attended on Easter and came home for Christmas, but that was about it. I was not grounded in a church that reminded me that I was a child of God. But deep down I knew. So when I retired at age 21, I moved home, attended the University of Kentucky, and went to church.
I became a youth group sponsor and loved it! I was invited to share my story from the fashion world for the first time, and I realized that I just might have something to say to young people about body image.
Fast-forward a few years, a failed marriage, and another stint in LA, and I came back home, finished college, and continued to work with the church. I received my call to ministry soon thereafter. At no time had I envisioned God calling a former Hollywood-type to the share the Word. But alas. Here I am.
So now I am a former model, ordained minister, married-again (to a minister), and mom to Miriam (almost three-years-old). My passions about body image have only increased as I continue to lead workshops and retreats with youth and women.
Media reinforces over and over and over again that we are not okay just as we are. That we are to subscribe to some “ideal beauty,” which is impossible to achieve and devalues the diversity of God’s creation. There are many passages from the Bible on which I base the title of my website and workshops “Beautiful Child of God: Embodying the Divine.” Perhaps, my favorite is how God created humankind in God’s own image (imago Dei), and called us not just good, but very good.
Most of us, women and men, young and old, of all colors and ethnicities, struggle with the reflection in the mirror. Media has much to do with our dissatisfaction. In my talks, I seek to expose the myths that reinforce negativity for capitalist gain, and I attempt to enforce the Truth that we are created beings, body and spirit, incarnated, imprinted with the Divine.
Robb asked how I came to use #ShapedByGod. That was an idea by a friend and colleague, Rev. Sarah Taylor Peck, who mentioned it as Lenten discipline. I immediately asked to join in her journey, because I believe we were molded out of the soil of the earth to be exactly who God shaped us to be. Some tall and thin, most not so. Some light skinned, most not.
When we look in the mirror, it is God whom we reflect. It is the Divine spark that shines from our eyes and in our bodily actions and spirit-filled prayers. We are shaped by God to be God’s hands and feet and ears and voice in the world. We are not supposed to all have the same shape (tall and thin for women, “manly” and muscly for men), but we are to love the bodies that we were given, take care of them, and use them to bring about the Kin-dom of God.
There’s your sermon for the day, but I realize that this is easier said (or typed) than done. I still struggle. Fifteen years removed from modeling full-time, I can still pick my body apart if I let myself, even though I eat well and exercise. But I try not to. I try to love my whole self because I lead workshops about this type of thing (duh), I am mom to a daughter whom I desperately wish maintains the love of her belly, the good foods she eats, the exercise she gets, the joy she has in her body and spirit, and I am a child of God. A beautiful child of God. And so are you!
Thanks for letting me share a bit of my story.