Former international Ford fashion model Tonya Ruiz shares how an inner makeover revealed her true beauty
On Tonya's third birthday her eyes lit up as she unwrapped her first perfect poly-vinyl goddess – a Barbie doll. That is where she believes her obsession with fashion and beauty began.
"I believed my life would be perfect if I were that beautiful," Tonya shares.
Hoping to emerge "Barbie-fied" from her "gawky adolescence" Tonya signed up for classes with a modelling agent at age 15.
Soon after her sixteenth birthday a modelling agent from Paris arrived at her agency looking for a fresh new face and chose Tonya out of 200 other girls he interviewed.
Within a few months of arriving in Paris, Tonya was adorning magazine covers, billboards, and television commercials and travelling to fashion capitals New York, Milan, Munich, and Tokyo.
"My life was glamorous and exciting; I danced with royalty, drank champagne, and dated athletes, rock stars, and millionaires," she recalls.
"I'd always been thin, so it never occurred to me my excessive drinking and late-night eating could add pounds to my figure, but they did."
After gaining ten pounds Tonya was increasingly rejected in favour of thinner models.
"I crash dieted to maintain my weight for a while but soon lost control," she admits.
"The harder I tried to lose weight, the more I became obsessed with food. I got so hungry I started bingeing and purging. It became a vicious cycle."
Finally, after a week-long fast, she walked into Ford Models weighing 54kg and was told she still needed to lose more weight.
"Now when I looked in the mirror I no longer saw a resemblance to Barbie," she says sadly.
Once the glamour and excitement wore off Tonya says she began feeling a void in her life.
"No matter where I lived, who I dated, or what level of success I achieved, I felt empty," she admits.
"I used food to fill the empty place, and eventually I turned to alcohol, drugs, and men. My life spiralled downwards."
Then one day she same across a Bible in her hotel room and began reading it.
"Thinking about my messy life, I knew I was far from God and doubted He could love me. When I began asking spiritual questions, a model friend encouraged me to read New Age self-help books. I began consulting my horoscope, searching fruitlessly for answers."
At 18, Tonya began contemplating suicide. "My whole worth in life was based on the way I looked," she says. "I couldn't look perfect so I felt absolutely worthless."
She flew home to see her family before going through with her plan but, when a friend invited her to a Christian concert, plans changed.
"After the music, the pastor asked: 'Do you have a void in your life? Have you tried everything and still feel empty?' I felt he was speaking directly to me," she remembers.
She knew what she had to do: step forward to ask Jesus to become her personal Saviour and Lord.
"After I accepted the Lord, my life was forever changed and I realised there is more to beauty than meets the eye," she says.
It was at that point that Tonya walked away from the modelling world and got a job as a secretary.
"God slowly began to change me. By reading the Bible, I learnt I don't have to look perfect for God to love me. I discovered God doesn't accept me because of the size of my jeans, the condition of my skin, or my reflection in the mirror.
"God loves me so much He sent His only Son Jesus to die for me, just as I am."
After leaving the modelling business Tonya no longer felt the pressure to stay extremely thin and soon found a healthier balance with eating, exercise, and sleeping.
"I also stopped drinking, doing drugs, and staying out all night," she adds.
After marrying Ron and having four children, 53-year-old Tonya admits her figure is not what it once was but says she found a new way to deal with her disappointment.
"I began to take a good look at godly women I admired and realised they had a 'glow' about them despite not being model material," she explains.
"I realised Christian women I knew had a beauty that didn't come from the makeup counter but from time spent in prayer and Bible study."
Tonya reminds her daughters of this truth, reading them the Bible verse that says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (see Psalm 139:13-14)."
"Looking beautiful outwardly is only skin deep, but being beautiful is soul deep," she concludes.
"That's the only beauty I now want to model."•