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Dressing Up or Down: The Testimony of an Ex-Model

by Gwen Shorter

What happens when high fashion meets the High King of Heaven?

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The streets of New York City, with their hustle, bustle, bright lights, and millions of people, were the place to be! "How exciting!", I thought to myself, as I hurried from one appointment to another, swinging my portfolio. I was a model in the fashion capital of the world, and dressing up or down was highly competitive.

Models set the standards for what most women call beauty. On television, in the magazines, newspapers, shows, etc., there used to be set styles. Anyone can put clothes on, but models must put it all together to attract and alarm the senses. They must sell clothes and themselves. And there I was, right in the middle of it all. I knew the power of a fashionable, well-dressed woman, and I wanted to use that power to help me climb the show business ladder.

In those days I wore micro mini skirts, pants and form-fitting sweaters, shorts, and anything else I wanted to help draw attention. "You can look, but don't touch!"--that was my motto.

And I loved my shoes! Every time I bought a new dress I had to buy a new pair of shoes. My heart would actually speed up with the excitement of just looking at a pair of fancy shoes. I just knew they were made for me--just my style! I would deny myself food, if necessary, to buy what I wanted to dress up or down.

My manicure and pedicure were always polished to perfection in order to keep up with my "beauty." I had jars, bottles, and tubes of all sorts of concoctions. Between facial masques, moisterizers, toners, foundations, eye shadow, pencil liner and brush, lipstick and lip gloss, body powder and face powder, perfume, polish for the nails, polish remover, files, expensive hairdos, false eye lashes, leg shaving paraphernalia, etc., etc., I spent hundreds of dollars just to keep myself "together."

Dressing up was not complete without my jewelry. To my eyes, those precious trinkets and ornaments of gold and silver made any outfit look exquisite. My jewelry box overflowed with all kinds of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, brooches, and rings. To be honest, I worshiped jewelry! I felt naked without it--and besides, it made me look good whether I dressed up or down!

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Perfect?

Always in the mirror I was checking this and checking that--everything had to be just perfect. My everyday ritual of pampering and primping took about two hours of time before I was ready to face the public. When I emerged to meet the public eye, I would get those whistles, cat calls, and turn-around looks from men. I would appear not to hear or even see them. My motto was "Look, but don't touch."

To be honest, I worshiped jewelry! I felt naked without it.

The first argument I had with my husband, Rick (before we were married), was over the mini skirts and low cuts I wore. I flatly told him if he didn't like it, "find someone else," and I meant it. I had no intention of changing, and he never brought up the subject again. Nobody was changing me! And besides--change to what? I only knew one way--my way of dressing up or down.

As a model in the early 1970s with one of the top black modeling agencies in New York City, my fee was $60 an hour, $30 an hour to try on the clothes and have them fitted. There is hardly anything in the world that fosters pride and vanity more than being in front of a camera!

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The "Max" Factor

Make-up was just about the most important factor in my so-called beauty. It was not unusual for me to spend $40 to $50 for make-up regularly. Most of the make-up focused on the eyes. A determined effort goes into making the eyes as seductive and glamorous as possible. Much skill and precision is employed to make the result appear "natural," but everyone knows the naked truth. The idea is to make it appear that your eyes are big, your cheek bones high, your nose thin, your lips thin, your cheeks aglow with rosiness (a false look of health), your eyebrows thin and haughty-looking. This fosters vanity, pride and self-deception. And the Bible says that those who love or make a lie will be outside the gates of the city (Rev 22:15).

Make-up is meant to attract. And just what it attracts is not always desirable. Many times in my career as a model, actress, and nightclub singer, I would not take off my make-up for days at a time. I dreaded facing the truth of what I really looked like. So I know from experience that make-up subtly builds up a feeling of insecurity or makes a bad case of insecurity worse. However, it is supposed to do just the opposite: make you feel good about yourself. It doesn't work, but you pretend it does anyway. I saw the phony it had made of me. I was already out on that limb--and didn't know how to get back. Will I be accepted without my make-up? This was a big question in my mind.

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Clear Lives

As Christians, our lives should be as clear as crystal. We have nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Our appearance--hair, face, style of dress and shoes--should speak of plainness and natural simplicity in beauty. After becoming a Christian and stripping myself of all jewelry (a ring on almost every finger, pins, pierced earrings, bracelets, necklaces) and arched eyebrows, nail polish, make-up, I literally had to get used to the "new" me all over again.

It was a battle with self all the way. Only through Christ was I able to overcome this obsession for worldly things. Ellen G. White was right: "The life of nine tenths of those who are devotees of fashion is a living lie. Deception, fraud, is their daily practice; for they wish to appear that which they are not" (Messages to Young People, p. 359). The most important thing to be remembered about wearing make-up, jewelry, or anything to attract attention to self is that people do it to make "self" appear to be that which it is not! It is like an "enemy in the camp."

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Being a Christian

As Christians, our lives should be as clear as crystal. We have nothing to hide or be ashamed of.

So you want to be a Christian? Certain things work to help you and certain things work against you. You will never, ever overcome pride and vanity unless you rid yourself absolutely of all these "enemies in the camp." Make-up is like a bad seed in good soil: it will bring forth its fruit, and you won't like the harvest. Resolutely decide by God's grace to have nothing to do with these enemies, and you'll really begin to accept yourself just as God made you! In this Christian warfare we need all the help we can get, without throwing the door wide open and inviting the enemy in!

Here are twelve reasons why wearing make-up and jewelry is not in harmony with the consecrated Christian life:

  1. It's a waste of money.
  2. It fosters pride and vanity in the heart.
  3. It destroys simplicity and modesty of demeanor and appearance.
  4. It covers your natural beauty--as God made you.
  5. It develops feelings of insecurity (you think you don't look your "best" without it).
  6. It's a waste of time (making-up). Time (every minute) is a talent from God.
  7. It will force you into associations which are frivolous and unChristlike.
  8. It is unhealthful to clog the pores and risk damaging the eyes with these dangerous chemicals and dyes.
  9. Make-up and jewelry are meant to attract, therefore you might attract--you know what.
  10. It's a lie, and Satan is the father of lies.
  11. It destroys love of eternal realities.
  12. Your heavenly Father doesn't like it.

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Jesus Made the Difference

Meeting Jesus was like a miracle. Everything I ever wanted in life--love, acceptance, security, and peace of mind--I found in Him. I did not have to change for Jesus, but His love changed me! I did not know I could have a personal experience with my Savior. I did not know He loved me so much--as if I were the only one in the whole wide world. I did not know Jesus was soon coming back to His earth again.

When I learned these things, no one had to tell me, "take off your make-up, jewelry, and immodest clothes." When I looked in the mirror after I surrendered my life to Jesus, I didn't look the same to myself. What I had thought was so beautiful looked ugly, phony, pretentious, and proud! I was like one of the proud daughters of Zion described by the prophet Isaiah in Isa. 3:l6-26.

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Shedding

No one had to tell me jewelry was inappropriate for the humble follower of Jesus. When I read those Bible texts on jewelry, I began shedding all my little precious idols from head to toe. What a relief! Nothing between my Saviour and me! "In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works" (1 Tim 2:9, 10).

When I looked in the mirror after I surrendered my life to Jesus, I didn't look the same to myself. What I had thought was so beautiful looked ugly, phony, pretentious, and proud!

"Whose adorning let it not be the outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Pet 3:3, 4).

No one had to tell me to get rid of mini skirts, pants, and low cuts. One day I packed them all up and took them to a local thrift shop. Why? Because I knew Jesus would not like them and I wanted to do everything to please the One who saved me from death and destruction. I had to ask the Lord to forgive me, because I knew I had caused many a man to sin in his heart because of the way I dressed.

And no more nakedness for me, in the name of water, sun and fun! That "colored underwear" I used to wear to the beach, all of a sudden became "strange apparel" (see Prov 7:10).

Now I know God made man with a sexual nature quite different from that of a woman. Man's sexual nature is so sensitive that it can be ignited into a fire by just the sight of a half-dressed or seductively-dressed woman. The short or tight skirt, low cut blouse, stocking legs, form fitting sweaters, pants, or jeans, all distract the minds of most men with unholy thoughts. The indulgent look, with desire, can destroy a man--and a woman! That strange apparel could mean the loss of eternal life not just to one man, but a whole host of them.

Before, I was dressing to bring attention to myself. Now, I want to hide behind Jesus. Before, I wasted hundreds of dollars and hours of precious probationary time trying to make myself beautiful by the world's standard. Now, I spend those hours in the study of God's Word and in prayer. I realize now that real beauty consists of a Christ-like character. Before, I loved dressing up or down--showing off fine clothes, forcing more and more clothes into my already overflowing closet, and trying to keep pace with the ever-changing fashions. Now, I measure my wardrobe by God's Word. Before, I was insecure. I wouldn't let anyone see me without my "make-up." Now, I am plain, placid, and pleased to be a child of the King. I feel secure because I know Jesus loves me just the way I am, and this gives me the courage to share this message of truth with all who will listen.

With my burden lifted and my idols torn down, what peace, sweet peace I enjoy! The change in me happened over 25 years ago. I still like to dress up, but only in Christ's beautiful robe of righteousness, and down with everything that displeases Him.

[Adapted from Thy Nakedness: Lord, What Shall I Wear? (Earlton, N.Y.: Homeward Publishing, 1997).]

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