A Chance to Shine
About the Guest
Modeling as a career can be tough. Especially if you're a Christian. International model Rachel Lee Carter tells how she broke into the modeling business as a teen and shares what life was like when she first moved to the Big Apple to pursue her career. With the world at her fingertips, Rachel began to tune out spiritually, and found that modeling offered some unique challenges.
Modeling as a career can be tough.
A Chance to Shine
Bob: At age 18, Rachel Lee Carter was offered a modeling contract in New York. Although she had grown up in the church, her faith was not rooted and grounded enough for her to be able to withstand what she faced when she got there.
Rachel: My Bible teaches that, “Those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” and they’re the only ones who are saved; they are the only ones who will enter into heaven. I knew that, and I remember praying that prayer; but when I got to New York, “These were really nice people!” These were friendly people; these were people who fed the homeless and did good things. Who was I to now say, “You’re not going to heaven because you don’t believe in the same Jesus I do and you don’t have Him in your heart”?
I began to very much question the faith that I grew up in.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 9th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Rachel Carter joins us today to share a story about being a fashion model, losing your faith, and compromise. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’ve got to be honest with you—(Laughter)
Bob: This morning, I’m getting up and I’m getting dressed; and I’m thinking, “Well, we’re going to be interviewing Rachel Carter—you know, the fashion model.”
Bob: So I spent a little longer in the closet kind of looking at—(Laughter)
Dennis: You know, honestly, I look at your shirt and I go, “What’s happened to Bob?!”
Bob: Well, here’s the conclusion I came to—standing in my closet—I really need to go shopping! (Laughter)
There’s just not much here that you can wear to a radio interview with a fashion model. So I found one thing that had a little polo pony on it; and I thought, “That’s got to get me some street ‘cred’ of some kind;” you know?
Dennis: I think Rachel probably likes it. Do you?
Rachel: I do like it.
Dennis: You like his shirt?
Rachel: Great job, Bob. (Laughter)
Dennis: You’ve upgraded the look here on FamilyLife Today already, Rachel. We do want to welcome you to the broadcast.
She is a model. She’s also a graduate of Word of Life up in New York. She is married to Daryl; they have two sons and live in North Carolina. She has written a book called Fashioned by Faith. It really takes on the issue of modesty.
Out of your experience—you got a whale of a lot of experience—I’m going to ask you a gritty question right off the start. I usually don’t hit it this hard right off the start; but I can tell you can handle it, Rachel. Alright?
If you had a daughter, would you want her to be a model like you?
Dennis: You would not want her to have a career in modeling? Why?
Rachel: Unless God called her there. If God called her there, He would have to let me know that, too—(Laughter)—and after she goes to Bible college and then she goes into the fashion industry. (Laughter)
Bob: He’d probably have to show credentials, just so you could verify it was God speaking.
Bob: Well, it’s a great question. We have a young woman at our church whose parents came one Sunday and said, “Pray for us. Our daughter is going to be moving to New York. She’s got somebody here locally who has recommended her.”
She’s a very attractive young woman; and I thought to myself, “Oh, my goodness! She’s a sweet, 18-year-old young woman headed off to New York”; and I thought, “Does she really know what she’s walking into?” because my perception is—it’s really a jungle out there and it’s going to be hard to hang on to a love for Jesus and break into modeling in New York City. Is that right?
Rachel: Absolutely. It’s true. That was my experience. I grew up in the church and made a profession of faith when I was seven years old. I was very involved with our church. We were there when the doors were opened, as they say. It was when I was in middle school that I was very involved with the youth group, and we were going on youth trips. I loved it—loved the camaraderie that we had there in the youth group.
You know, in high school, I used that as an opportunity to be sort of set apart in my own way—but I didn’t want to be too set apart.
Rachel: I didn’t want to be that Jesus girl. That scared me. I tried my very best to “fit in” in high school and still manage to be a church girl, going once a week or two to three times a week to church.
Bob: Did “fit in” mean compromise?
Rachel: Yes, it did. I think that there’s no other way that you can really describe that. It meant that I went where people went and I partied like people partied. You know, a funny thing was that I never drank alcohol. I felt like that was my testimony to them: “They know I’m a Christian, and they know that is why I don’t drink—because of my love for the Lord.”
The crazy thing is, they never knew that. They never realized that. I met a girl later on in life and she said, “Hey, would you like a glass of champagne?” I looked at her and said, “I don’t drink—remember?” She thought back to high school and said, “You didn’t drink in high school?” All of that time, I thought that I was being that witness of not drinking and that was going to be what set me apart—that she would know I was a Christian. Nobody knew. I wasn’t influencing anybody.
Dennis: There was a reason why you didn’t drink. Alcohol was abused.
Rachel: That’s right. My father was an alcoholic. Now, he was a professed Christian; but he had struggled with alcohol as I was growing up. As I saw the destruction that it caused, I ran from it. I said, “I didn’t want any part of it.”
He was tragically killed when I was 14 years old. From that point on, I knew I would never touch it. So I didn’t.
Dennis: Was he abusive as a drunk?
Rachel: He was.
Dennis: To your mom?
Dennis: To you?
Rachel: Yes, but mostly to my mother and my brother. I was kind of the princess, but he was very verbally abusive and very emotionally abusive in our home. Seeing that destruction and what it does kept me far from ever wanting to go near it.
Dennis: So, as a teenager, you ended up getting involved in some of the national contests—beauty pageant contests. How did that work for your modeling Christian values?
Rachel: Well, you know, as a teenager, they’re not really asking you—at least at that time—to compromise on stage. What I was wearing was long evening gowns and things that were modest and well-cut. Growing up, that was my goal; that was kind of my outlet. My “thing” was to do beauty pageants. I loved it!
It was interesting because, growing up, I went through that middle-age phase of having the acne, and the glasses, and the braces—that awkward stage that a lot of girls go through; but as I came out of that and went into the beauty pageants, that became my niche—my thing that I wanted to do.
Everything was around going to—trying to make it to “Miss Teen USA”. So when I was 17, I won “Miss Teen North Carolina” and was able to go to “Miss Teen USA.” From there, it just became a natural pattern to go right into the fashion industry; so, I did.
Bob: Again, “Miss Teen USA”, as you said, was appropriate—nothing that you look back on now and say, “I wouldn’t do it again.” Is that right?
Rachel: Yes. Everything was totally above-board. We’re talking early ‘90s. I’m aging myself. (Laughter)
Bob: I guess my question is, “Had they been pushing the line at that time and you were a young 17-year-old girl, would that have been an issue for you?” or do you think you would have said, “Oh well, this is just what you have to do”?
Rachel: I would have failed that test.
Bob: You were already headed in a direction that was, “I’m in pursuit of something more important to me than walking with Jesus.”
Dennis: You had already made those decisions and compromised. You know, I think there are a lot of parents listening to you today who are raising daughters, as well as sons, attempting to embed within them convictions, and standards, and boundaries—that build some fences around their lives as they encounter this culture.
Would there have been any way your parents could have helped you or come alongside you? Could they have helped you establish some of those boundaries?
Rachel: I think so. My mom—you know, she was a single parent. I think it was hard for her, just trying to navigate this life as a single mom. She became more of a friend of mine, and we really depended on each other. We still do. We’re very close; but I think if my dad would have been there—to kind of be that sounding board and say, “No, these are the guidelines. This is what you’re going to do; this is what you’re not going to do. I’m going to put my foot down here because I love you.” I think that might have registered completely differently with me.
You know, my mom’s not a guy. She’s not wired like a guy. She wouldn’t have known certain things to keep me from. She just tried to protect me the best she could—getting to “Miss Teen USA” and then being able to move on into the fashion industry—of course, she was very proud of me.
Dennis: What I hear you saying, Rachel, is—a young lady, at that point in her life, dealing with all of the choices that you had to deal with, needed parents to engage your life—your standards—and speak with you and talk with you. Certainly, you needed a parent who was a friend; but you didn’t need your mom just tobe your friend.
Rachel: That’s right.
Dennis: You needed someone to, as you said, call you up—call you to keep your standards high and not allow the culture to shape your standards totally. I fear, today, what’s happening with a lot of parents is—they’re allowing their kids to push them out of their lives. As a result, they’re leaving their children much more vulnerable.
Rachel: That’s true. That’s true. I think if there were anybody involved in my life, whether it had been my parents, or a youth pastor, or a school counselor, or a friend from church, or a neighbor, or somebody that could have really held me accountable with some of those decisions—
But the thing is, it comes in so subtly. When you just do a beauty pageant, like I said—it iss long evening gowns and everything’s fine. Except, you have to remember, that that’s all about appearance—it’s all about appearance—all about appearance. So that was beginning to set me up for starting to make decisions that were all about appearance.
Eventually, it would be whatever it cost. I think that’s where somebody could have come in and said, “Hey, let’s take inventory of this and see where this is going.”
Bob: So, at 17 or 18 years old, does your mom buy you a ticket to New York and you’re off on your own in the big city, trying to break into the modeling industry?
Rachel: Well, sort of. I was discovered, and we had an opportunity to go up and meet the agent. My mom and I flew to New York. We met the agent; we stayed in her home. She took us around the city a little bit. We saw that it was a legitimate organization; and I had an opportunity to go to castings, where I would meet people. I didn’t even have a portfolio; I had nothing. I was just there as kind of an introduction.
Teen magazine wanted to book me for the next day. They asked, “Could we change our ticket? Could I stay and do the photo shoot the next day?”
Rachel: So it was, “Yeah! This is great!”
Dennis: I mean, I’m picturing you as an 18-year-old girl, being shown the skyscrapers, the streets of New York, the big-time life that is there—the big city. You had to be overwhelmed—just kind of wowed, coming from North Carolina to the big city.
Rachel: I was—absolutely! It was the first time I had ever been to New York. Exactly—you nailed it. I was this wide-eyed country girl moving—or at least, even going to this concrete jungle and seeing this for the first time—and then, having Teen magazine, which was the magazine of choice at the time, wanting to book me for a photo shoot. I mean—
Dennis: Was your mom “wowed,” too?
Rachel: Yes! Yes, absolutely!
Bob: I mean, it’s like dreams come true. This doesn’t happen to the typical girl who shows up in New York.
Dennis: You found the glass slipper!
Bob: So, the next day you’re at the shoot and everything goes great?
Rachel: Yes. I do the photo shoot. All goes well, and we made a decision basically then that, “Well, I guess this means I can forgo college for the moment and move to Manhattan.” So, I sold my car—went back home and sold my car—and had about $4,500 to move with me to New York. That would be what I was going to get started on.
Dennis: By yourself?
Rachel: By myself.
Dennis: No way! So where was your mom in all of this? (Laughter) Was she cheering you on, “Go girl, go!”?
Rachel: Well, I think she was a little bit nervous, you know; but she had met my bookers and she knew that, at the moment, I would be living in their home. When I went there, right after high school—I graduated—and when I went there, I was going to be living in their home with them.
As I did that, and my mom saw that I was doing well, and that I had accountability, and everything was good, everything seemed okay. Shortly after that, I decided that, “I am ready to move into Manhattan,” because I was in Queens—move into Manhattan, where real models lived. That’s where things got a little sketchy.
Bob: Tell us about a single girl, on her own, in Manhattan, breaking into the modeling business—living where the models live—
Dennis: Whose faith is not first and foremost—
Bob: Not at the forefront. What does life look like?
Rachel: Well, I was overwhelmed, like you say. I know that I had, really, the world at my fingertips. I could stay out as late as I wanted to stay out. Nobody was asking me when I came in or checking their watch. I was on my own. I could go rollerblading around Central Park at 3:00 in the morning if I felt like it. I could do anything—
Dennis: Hold it! Hold it! Did you?
Rachel: Oh, I did!
Dennis: In Central Park, in the middle of the night?!
Rachel: You know; it is funny. My brother used to say, “You know, Rachel, what they say about Central Park—‘It’s beautiful by day; deadly by night.’ What are you doing!?” I said, “Hey, I’m going 20 miles an hour; who’s going to catch me?!” (Laughter)
Bob: Wow. Wow! (Laughter)
Rachel: But that was the kind of mentality. I was let loose. I could get into bars, where I shouldn’t have been allowed to be in. I could get into clubs, where I shouldn’t have been able to be in. I was hanging out with people who did not know the Lord. I had nobody telling me to get up and go to Sunday school in the morning on Sunday morning. So, the church—that kind of went by the wayside. That was not an important issue for me.
I think I grew up in the Bible belt and I felt like, “This is why I do what I do. I go to church because that is what everybody else does.” But when you’re living in Manhattan—my friends weren’t going to church; so, I didn’t go to church. My friends were going to clubs; so, that’s what I did.
Dennis: So, the other advertisers began to line up—the magazines, the catalogs, and the different types of photo shoots. Name some of them.
Rachel: I worked for Cover Girl®, Revlon®; I did Tommy Hilfiger®, DKNY®; lots of clients.
Bob: Was there, at all, a still, small voice?—a voice of conviction inside you going, “Rachel?!” Or had you so tuned out from that, that even if the Spirit was tapping, you weren’t listening?
Rachel: I had so tuned out.
Bob: Was anything going on with you spiritually?
Rachel: No. No; because, you know, I had always grown up in the church. I knew that, you know, my Bible teaches that, “Those who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved,” and that only those who have Jesus Christ in their heart—living in them—they are the only ones who are saved. They are the only ones who will enter into heaven.
I knew that, and I remember praying that prayer; but when I got to New York, and I had all these other friends of different nationalities, different backgrounds, different faiths—a lot of people involved with New Age religion, or Buddhism, or other things—these were really nice people. These were friendly people. These were people who fed the homeless and did good things. Who was I to now say, “You’re not going to heaven because you don’t believe in the same Jesus I do and you don’t have Him in your heart”? I began to very much question the faith that I grew up in.
Bob: There’s an echelon in modeling that is—I mean, I think of what they refer to as the “supermodels,” some of the big names that we hear about and know. Was your eye on that prize? Did you want to be Kate Moss, or Christie Brinkley, or one of those known-name models?
Rachel: Absolutely. I mean, just like when I started doing pageants when I was 12 years old, wanting to make it to “Miss Teen USA”—I mean, that was the goal. When I got to New York, the goal was “supermodel.”
Bob: What does it take to get there?
Rachel: Take your clothes off.
Bob: You could not be a committed Christian and get to that caliber?
Rachel: You know, my agent had told me that she wanted to develop a supermodel that never had to take her clothes off. She said, “Maybe it can be you.” I said, “Well, I’m not taking my clothes off, so whether I make it or not—if I do a couple hundred thousand a year or if I do a couple million a year—”
I mean, that’s kind of the difference. That top two percent of models, that are working models, can make a really good living; but I was okay with just a couple hundred thousand a year. “Hey, I’m 18 years old!” That sounded pretty good!
Bob: And you get to keep your clothes on, yes; that’s right.
Rachel: That was good for me.
Dennis: What I’m wondering, just listening to your story, is, “Where did the standard come from?—where, even though you said you were compromising; but you weren’t in a free-fall. You weren’t throwing it all away. You had your limits. Where did that come from? Was it the Christian home that you grew up in that protected you at that point?—the church you went to?—that portion of the Bible that you knew?”
Rachel: I think so. It was that, but it was also that I’m very stubborn. So, if somebody told me that I had to do something in order to make it, I was going to find a way where I was going to show you, “That’s not the case.”
It was just “icky” to me to ever have to take off my clothes for anybody else to see me. That was just—I’m very thankful for that. I’m not sure if that came from just growing up in my home of a Christian upbringing or if it was something that is just instilled in me. The reason I say that is—that I’m not convinced that when I moved to New York, I was a born-again Christian. I’m not convinced because I know that the decisions I was making, living there, were very counter to what Christianity is about. I could not make these decisions and call myself a child of God.
So, it was actually while I was there, questioning my faith, and seeing that all these other people who were good, solid people and doing good things and not of the same faith as me, that as I began to question my faith, “How can I say that I believe what I believe? It doesn’t even measure up. They’re doing better things than I’m doing.” As I began to question that, I began to fall further and further away from the faith that I grew up in.
Bob: I just want to imagine a scene where your manager calls you and says, “Rachel, I’ve got wonderful news. Vanity Fair® wants you on the cover, and they’ve asked Annie Leibovitz to take the photography. The only thing is, you will have to remove your top; but your arms will be positioned in such a tasteful way—it will really be art. It will be beautiful. It’s a lot of money. This is the step to where you want to be.”
Dennis: Don’t you think Bob sounds a little bit like the Devil right now? (Laughter)
Rachel: Wow, yes. I do, I do. That’s scaring me a little bit, Dennis. (Laughter)
Bob: Can you put yourself in that place at age 19, age 20, and hearing those words? Would you have said, “Yes”?
Rachel: Probably. Probably.
Dennis: So there was a price?
Rachel: Yes, I think so.
Dennis: You know, here’s what I want—our listeners to just take a step back and be encouraged by—because there are a lot of moms and dads listening to this broadcast, who are raising sons and daughters who may not be doing just great right now, or they’re beginning the teenage years and they’re already showing signs of their faith deteriorating—they are not keeping Jesus Christ first in all things—and I just want them to hear what you said because the “Hound of Heaven” was after you because you’d been raised in the fear of God; you’d been taught the Scripture. That didn’t go away.
Dennis: The prayers of your mom—maybe, the prayers of other people who were praying for you—God continued to protect you, and even though you didn’t do it all perfectly, you did come out, on the other end, coming back to your faith and becoming much more focused on Christ and having Him as Lord of your life—and having standards and boundaries that protected you from choices that would come your way.
I really think that what Rachel has done in her book, in her honesty of sharing how she struggled over issues of modesty, and limits, and boundaries—I think a lot of parents are going to find that her book is really helpful in guiding them in coaching their daughters, in dialoging with them, and discussing with them standards in a culture that really has none.
Bob: Yes, and I think what you’ve done, by being honest and transparent about your own story, is you have taken this—not just to saying, “Here’s what you should do and here’s what you shouldn’t do,” but you’ve talked about how you’ve had to navigate the path yourself and how you’ve come to the decisions you’ve come to. The book that Rachel has written is called Fashioned by Faith. It’s a book that we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy. Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com. Look for a copy of the book, Fashioned by Faith, by Rachel Lee Carter.
Then, if you have younger girls, you may want to get a copy of Dannah Gresh’s book, Eight Great Dates for Moms and Daughters. The book provides a mom with everything she needs to carry out activities, where you can address topics like beauty, modesty, hair, make-up, and clothing—things like this—with your pre-teen daughters. Again, information about both books can be found online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
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We want to encourage you to be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to hear more from Rachel Lee Carter. She’ll talk about what happened when she headed off to Bible college and left the fashion industry behind. We’ll hear her story tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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