As a minister of the Monterey Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Owen County, Sarah Renfro preaches about the love of God.
As a former model, she also is a crusader who advocates against unrealistic expectations of women's bodies.
Renfro, 36, was a member of the first class at the School of Performing Arts at Lafayette High School and became a model after being spotted at a Lexington talent search.
She was a bright-eyed 15-year-old. She signed a contract with the Elite modeling agency and appeared in Seventeen magazine. She was a third runner-up in the Elite Look of the Year modeling contest — competing against 70 women from more than 40 countries — and received a two-year, $75,000 New York modeling contract.
That led to travel: Tokyo, Germany, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan and Slovenia.
She enjoyed the travel — "That's what I wouldn't trade for the world, that I got to see the world" — but disliked the constant pressure to be thinner. She recalls that at one point she was living on cigarettes, coffee and a can of soup a day — and she still wasn't happy with her body.
She "struggled with disordered eating and depression, constantly being told that I wasn't good enough just as I was," she recently wrote in her blog. "I wasn't thin enough or blond enough or big-busted enough or ... I was the 1 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."
"I was being paid for looks," Renfro said recently. "And yet I felt I wasn't good enough."
Being a model wasn't a great job, she said. The money wasn't great, either, despite what you might have read about supermodels getting tens of thousands of dollars for a single gig. What paid well? Being a catalog model for flight attendants' uniforms, Renfro said.
By the time she was 21, Renfro decided to take her life in another direction. She returned home and earned degrees from the University of Kentucky and Lexington Theological Seminary. She married the Rev. Kyle Brown, who is minister of youth, young adults and church families at Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church.
Renfro is still striking: tall and graceful, with a fine-boned face and high cheekbones. She is raising the couple's 3-year-old daughter, Miriam, to see and appreciate the great things about the bodies of girls and women.
She believes that our bodies are gifts from God, and that trying to improve what people do with them — whether it's taking good care of them or abusing them with eating disorders and body dysmorphia — is part of an examined life.
"We can use our body for more, for service and spirit," Renfro said.
Renfro offers body-image workshops, available for youth and women's groups, in which participants cut pictures out of magazines and view a PowerPoint of Renfro's progress from teen model to minister. Contact her at Revrenfro.com for more information. Attendees look at scriptures that promote a positive body image. The session ends with shouting in a mirror, "I am a beautiful child of God!"
"The more I told my story, the more I reflect on my experience," Renfro said. "I saw how terrible the standard was, how it hurts us all."