“Leah Darrow uses her experience in the beauty industry to help the women of our culture see what true beauty looks like.” —Jennifer Fulwiler, host of The Jennifer Fulwiler Show and author of Something Other than God
Do you feel like you’re never good enough? Like you should be living a more Instagram-worthy life? Are you exhausted by the impossible quest for physical beauty but still yearn for the validation of being chosen, valued, and deemed beautiful?
Drawing on her experience on America’s Next Top Model and her work as a fashion model, Leah Darrow exposes the lies we are told about our worth being tied to our appearance and instead invites us to look again at the real meaning of beauty. She shows how we can reclaim true and lasting beauty—the kind that doesn’t depend on self-doubt, exploitation, or comparison—when we reflect God’s glory and embrace our value as he made us to be: strong, brave, and free. Only when we learn to see ourselves as God does can we leave behind our culture’s definitions and demands and find joy in The Other Side of Beauty.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
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About the Author
Leah Darrow, a former model and contestant on America’s Next Top Model, has a driving passion to inspire women to do something beautiful with their lives. She is an international speaker, writer, and host of the Do Something Beautiful podcast. She is a wife to a US Army Green Beret and mom to three marvelous, crazy little kids, and together they live in St. Louis, Missouri.
Read an Excerpt
THE WORLD'S DEFINITION OF BEAUTY
WHEN YOU HEAR THE WORD BEAUTY, WHAT do you think about? For most of my life, my automatic response to that word was to connect it with something exterior, whether that was fashion, clothing size, makeup, physique, hair — you name it. It's not surprising, then, that I often sought out beauty regimes or products that promised — in exchange for my time and money — t o make me physically beautiful.
Every product came with the promise of being handcrafted with me in mind, boasting that it would eliminate my wrinkles, acne, dark circles, muffin top, or varicose veins. Sometimes I didn't even know I had such problems until an advertisement pointed it out to me, and then suddenly it was a glaring issue that I just had to deal with. It sounds pretty foolish now, looking back, but I don't think my former self was alone in thinking about beauty in this way.
This purely physical, perpetually unsatisfied view of beauty is actually rather common. But it shouldn't be. Why? Because the stakes are so high — the way we conceptualize beauty and how we search for it affect not only our outward appearance but how we evaluate our worth, pursue our passions, and, most importantly, how we build our relationships with other people.
Once my eyes were opened, I knew I had to shake off the conceptual hold that the beauty industry had on me; I had to clearly see the truth about this imitation beauty I had been offered. And that truth is that the beauty the industry promises me and you turns its loyal subjects into mere objects. In other words, it objectifies us. I think most women don't realize this as they go about their regular beauty routines, but if they did, they wouldn't want beauty on those terms. Let's explore more about what this objectification means for us.
You Are a Beautiful ... Hanger
As I mentioned earlier, after I was voted off America's Next Top Model, I moved to New York City and went to modeling auditions every week, waiting to get called back, waiting to be validated once again for my look, my beauty, my identity. I was hungry for that feeling I'd had when Tyra had first called my name. In the meantime I bartended at a few bars in Greenwich Village and became one of New York's finest dog walkers. I also started living with a boyfriend I had met in the city. I was doing everything I had seen portrayed as part of the glamorous life of a young person in New York. And yet it wasn't what I'd imagined it would be.
I still clearly remember one fall afternoon in Bryant Park when the buzz of Fashion Week was everywhere. I had been asked to work for a new designer and walk the runway as part of New York Fashion Week, which is one of the most exciting jobs for a model. I was hoping this would help me move up the fashion ladder.
Passing through security, I looked around and noticed it looked more like a fashion circus than Fashion Week. Models ran around half naked while assistants, stylists, and producers tended to their designers' needs. I found my place, got into hair and makeup, and waited to be called up for my position in the runway show.
And that's when I heard it.
"Get me a new hanger!" a man shouted.
Some assistants ran around, sending texts in a hurry, until a new girl was pushed in front of him.
"Yep, she'll do," he said, and off she went down the runway.
He called us hangers, not women, not models, not humans — hangers. As I stood waiting in line for my time to enter the runway, my turn to be a hanger, I began to think about his comment. Is that all we are? Just some object, some tool for clothes to be draped over? Is this really my dream, to be a hanger?
Looking back on this time in my life, I realize that I was merely pretending. I pretended it didn't bother me to be judged by fashion designers and modeling agencies. I pretended to want a life that belonged to someone else's dreams. I pretended to be satisfied with the life I was living, ignoring how empty it actually felt.
You don't have to be a supervillain to be living an unhappy life. Michelangelo, arguably one of the greatest artists and sculptors who ever lived, a man who always strived for excellence in his art, is rumored to have said, "The greatest danger in life to most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving the mark." It is so easy to live a life that does not aim for the best version of yourself, to live a life that isn't ultimately beautiful. And that was the life I was living: a life that had a low bar and was mediocre at best.
Not only was I pretending to desire a life that only brought me confusion, but I was also intentionally leaving God out of the equation. What would he have to say about my day-to-day actions? Would he approve of the types of modeling auditions I went on, what I wore, who I dated, or where I lived? I thought of God then only as an obligation for Christians on Sundays for a set amount of time. I did not witness any Christians in my field who spoke openly about the Lord, and I purposely surrounded myself with people who thought and acted the same way I did so that I would not be challenged.
My life at that time had one significant lie at its core: that my body was an object to be used, a means to getting certain ends. I used my body professionally to get further in my career, and I used it personally to feel loved. And I let others use my body, even when I didn't feel like it, so that I could grasp any feeling of value, worth, acceptance, and love.
The problem with being used, whether we allow it to happen or not, is that it does not match up with the dignity God gave us when he created us. And living contrary to our dignity has consequences. We are free to choose anything we want in this world, but we are not free from the consequences of those choices. As the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:23, " 'All things are lawful,' but not all things are helpful" (esv). I had followed culture's lie about outward beauty and pursued a career in modeling, seeking identity, worth, acceptance, and love; but instead of gaining those things, I lost my sense of dignity. I allowed myself to be treated like an object, and the consequences of that choice were not what I expected.
On the one hand, willingly using my body for its appearance meant I'd been chosen to be on America's Next Top Model. This seemed to reinforce the worldview that good consequences came from using my body. However, soon after I had made it to the top twenty contestants, I was sent home for two weeks to put my affairs in order so that I would be immediately ready to film Cycle 3 in New York should I be selected out of the top twenty. During those two weeks back in St. Louis, friends took me out to bars and clubs and told everyone, "My friend Leah is going to be on TV!" People whom I hadn't spoken to in years suddenly wanted to talk and hang out because there was a chance I'd be on a television show, which gave them bragging rights to say they knew me.
But they didn't care about a real friendship with me, only a friendship of use, as I was about to discover. On one occasion, at a dance club, after my friends basically told the entire bar about my upcoming TV debut, a guy grabbed me and said, "I just want to have my hands on you before you become famous." He proceeded to grope me, putting one hand on my chest and the other on my backside, in front of everyone, until I shoved him off me. I was disgusted and angry at being assaulted like that. This guy thought he had the right to touch me. And, what is possibly worse, my friends didn't jump in to stop him.
While I used my body for personal and professional gains, I was mistaken to think I could control exactly how I wanted to be used. The more I treated myself like an object, the easier it was for others to do so as well. When the consequences got out of control, such as people touching and using me without my consent, I finally realized that I no longer wanted to be treated as if I were just a body. However, the world and that guy at the bar didn't know where I drew the line. That guy assumed that since I put myself on display, he was entitled to use my body as well.
Young girls all over the world strive to be supermodels, all with the idea that the modeling lifestyle will be glamorous, beautiful, and lucrative, giving them a sense of independence and confidence. The reality is that this lifestyle, at its core, steals confidence. It says confidence is on shaky ground since it is dependent on how you look. It creates an atmosphere of dependence on the current cultural standard of beauty, pushing women to do anything and buy anything that helps them look, act, or be a certain way. This only benefits the beauty industry's bottom line — a number that is never large enough — and fuels our consumerism and materialism.
This is not beauty; this is a form of world-class manipulation meant to control how we see ourselves and others. This type of distorted beauty objectifies women and lowers our assessment of our own dignity and value. When we begin to think of ourselves merely as beautiful objects, the world begins to treat us as such. We teach others how to treat us, and if we lower the bar for ourselves, why are we so surprised when the world does the same?
Ironically, although women often allow themselves to be used, women actually don't like seeing themselves portrayed as objects. A study of more than 3,300 women done by the organization Women Not Objects demonstrated that objectifying women in advertising significantly impacted women's buying intent negatively. In other words, we can intuitively pick up that an ad is objectifying a woman, and we generally dislike it. According to this research, an ad objectifies a woman if it (a) treats the woman as a prop or object, (b) retouches the woman's image to the extent that it's beyond anyone's ability to look that way, (c) reduces the woman to a provocative body part, or (d) makes a viewer feel bad thinking a daughter, a friend, or a coworker being portrayed in that manner. The big question seems to be, if the research shows that we women dislike these ads that objectify us, why do we continue to fall for the trap again and again?
I believe the answer has to do with brokenness. If you believe you are broken, you'll accept whatever solution is necessary in order to be fixed. Many of our insecurities come from times when we've been wounded — by past experiences, other people, hurtful words, or the world's suggestions that we need fixing. Whatever the reason, it is easy to live out of those insecurities, and the beauty industry subtly encourages them because the relevance and profitability of their business largely depends on us continuing in our woundedness.
Maybelline, the self-proclaimed "number one cosmetic company in America," owns the famous tagline "Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline." I grew up with this little jingle branded into my brain, all the while not realizing that it had an effect on me, like so many other beauty advertisements. This jingle has the capability to impress upon women that we couldn't possibly be beautiful on our own, hence the need for this particular cosmetic company's products. Or it could also suggest that if some women who aren't naturally endowed with beauty want to level the playing field, then these cosmetics will help — which only adds fuel to the fire of comparison and competition between women. What a brilliant marketing idea! Impress upon women that we either couldn't possibly be born with beauty or that we should be comparing and competing with others for beauty. This company, like almost every other cosmetics company, wants us to believe that they will be the one to make us beautiful. And in the end, it is not about true beauty at all. It is about exploiting our insecurities or creating new ones so that we believe we need fixing.
Our culture starts this false, self-perpetuating cycle early in a girl's life. It does this by constantly focusing on the exterior and advertising products that claim they will make a girl prettier, from sparkly nail polish and tinted lip balm when she's younger to Spanx and fake eyelashes when she's older. As her insecurities grow, they push her to buy products to address them, thereby funding and empowering the industry, which then puts more money into advertising, and the cycle goes on.
There's nothing inherently wrong with wearing makeup or getting our hair done. But we need to understand that all these things should only serve to enhance the beauty that is already there, not create it. We are born with it. Maybe it's time we realized that.
I Promise to Make You Beautiful ... for at Least a Week
The beauty and fashion industries are built on the back of our insecurities and the notion that a woman's best contribution to the world is how she looks. Without highlighting our physical "flaws" and need to feel beautiful, they would not have the power or influence that they currently have.
In a twisted way, most women are desperate to be hangers. In 2014, we spent more than $56.2 billion on beauty products alone and $250 billion on wearable fashion. In 2015 we spent $15.9 million on cosmetic procedures and around $13.3 billion on elective cosmetic surgeries.
These numbers keep rising every year. How can it be that money on fashion is spent in increasing amounts year after year? Because the beauty industry recreates itself over and over by either pointing out a problem or creating new problems for women. Constantly changing the standard means that women will never be satisfied and will never stop chasing beauty.
According to some, a woman's problems consist in finding the right car or razor made especially for women. Lifestyle and fashion magazine Cosmopolitan teamed up with car manufacturer SEAT to create a car just for women. This car debuted during Cosmos FashFest in London in September 2016. The tiny purple car showcases "'eyeliner shape'" headlights and "jewelled bi-color rim design" on the wheels that add a "surprise sparkle," and according to Cosmopolitan, is a "place for impromptu karaoke performances, last-minute wardrobe changes, dramatic gossip sessions and emergency lunch-hour kips." The message that this car sends is that beautiful women wear eyeliner, love jewels and sparkles, and spend their time doing karaoke, changing clothes, and gossiping. Thus, every woman should buy this car, even if you find another perfectly functional car. But what if you don't wear eyeliner or love jewels and sparkles? What if you only have a few outfits and don't enjoy karaoke? The subtle message is that you aren't a real woman. But why are those the standards of what makes a woman? Do we really need a car just for women? What problem does this car solve that other cars can't? These sorts of products and marketing strategies take advantage of women and subtly suggest how we should define ourselves and what we should base our own value on.
From big things to small, it seems there is no shame in taking advantage of women. Razors are another example of a beauty standard we women did not create but have allowed to shape our lives. The practice of shaving for Western women is a relatively new development. While we can find evidence of Egyptian and Roman women shaving sections of body hair in an effort to denote wealth and class, most women in history did not shave due to the harsh effects of shaving with pumice stones or sharp rocks. Shaving for women was not introduced into Western society until the early 1900s when images of women wearing sleeveless and short dresses in print magazines began to change the culture. In 1915 the magazine Harper's Bazaar featured a woman wearing a sleeveless summer dress with one arm raised, showcasing a hairless armpit. The ad appealed to women's vanity with this line: "Summer dress and modern dancing combine to make necessary the removal of objectionable hair." The suggestion is that if you want to be a modern woman who wears summer dresses and goes dancing, who is desirable and beautiful, you'd better shave those pits. And now the vast majority of Western women do just that.
As much as we may sigh at the women reading Harper's Bazaar in 1915, we're all guilty of chasing after the newest and latest fashion trends. But ask yourself, if you have a fundamental desire for something, whether it be to fix a flaw or to enjoy something good, don't you want to satisfy that desire once and for all? If I have a desire for a friend, don't I want a friend who will be there for me forever? If I have a desire to be beautiful, don't I want my beauty to last? What good is the cream I bought today if I have to rebuy it in a few months? If we spend this obscene amount of money year after year, then the products are obviously not producing lasting effects and are not filling the void.
Excerpted from "The Other Side Of Beauty"
Copyright © 2017 Leah Darrow.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Pick Me! Pick Me!, xiii,
1 The World's Definition of Beauty, 1,
2 The High Cost of Imitation Beauty, 19,
3 False Love and the Pursuit of Worth, 41,
4 The Truth About Beauty, 61,
5 Desiring Beauty: Why We Don't and How We Can, 73,
6 Becoming Beautiful, 107,
7 Sharing Beauty, 117,
Appendix A: The Never List, 157,
Appendix B: Leah's Modesty Guidelines, 161,
Appendix C: The Closet Challenge, 167,
About the Author, 175,