Jennifer Strickland is an author, TEDx speaker, former model, wife, mother of three, and the founder of U R More, a ministry that teaches people their worth in God’s eyes. Jen has written seven books and studies teaching women and girls their true worth, including Girl Perfect, More Beautiful Than You Know, Beautiful Lies, and 21 Myths (Even Good) Girls Believe About Sex. She holds a bachelor’s in broadcast journalism and a master’s in writing and literature.
For 15 years, Jen worked worldwide as a print, runway, and commercial model. She lived in several European countries and got an inside look at one of the most glamorized industries in the world. Today, Jen uses her experience as a model, knowledge of Scripture, and love for young women to expose the lies of the media and teach them to see themselves in the mirror of God.
When I was a little girl, people used to stop my mother in the street and tell her I should become a model. At the age of eight, I started doing fashion shows, photo shoots, and mannequin modeling. At seventeen, my career took off when I signed with the Nina Blanchard Agency of Los Angeles (now FORD L.A.) and Nina sent me to Europe. During the next six years, my life was full with auditions, TV commercials, and photo shoots. While attaining a Broadcast Journalism degree from USC, I modeled all over the United States, Europe and Australia, appearing in fashion and beauty magazines, catalogues, and campaigns for such clients as Eddie Bauer, Jordache, Converse, Olay, and Coca-cola. I appeared in Glamour, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Seventeen, and was Barbie for the 35th anniversary of the doll in Italy.
During those years I lived with models whose lives were riddled with eating disorders, drug abuse, and unhealthy relationships. My days were filled with either praise or criticism over my appearance; and I became extremely insecure. After college, I signed with two of the most influential modeling agencies in the world, FORD New York and FASHION Milan, and moved to Italy, ready to take Milan by storm and hit the runway. I immediately began working with elite photographers, clients and designers, including Giorgio Armani. I opened his Giorgio and Emporio shows, showcasing his haute-culture and young women’s lines to the world. Armani chose to design the makeup for his 1995 Spring Giorgio Collection on my face, and was considering me for a huge print campaign.
Yet, at this pinnacle of my career, this place from which there seemed no bounds to what I could achieve, I found myself strikingly unfulfilled. As I saw how the superficiality and flesh-obsessed world of fashion modeling destroyed the self-image of so many young women, and left even those that achieved success without a clear purpose, I began to have a nagging sense there had to be more to my life than this.
After Armani, my career accelerated to a frantic pace – I went from studio to studio, country to country, every day dressing up to be a different person: different face, hair, clothes . . . until the reflection in the mirror revealed a dim resemblance of my former self. I began wondering who the woman in the mirror really was and what her value could be. Desperate for approval, I was starving myself for the designers, and became incredibly lonely. Being thousands of miles away from home all began to catch up with me . . . and this fast-moving train to fame derailed in a painful crash that seemed to take every dream of my young girl’s heart out with its wake.
The “beauty” that my career depended upon finally betrayed me: dark circles under my eyes, cystic acne, and a frame so thin that one could see all the ribs down my back; my face and body bore the toll of a business that treated me as a piece of plastic that could be painted up, broken apart, and discarded at will. When my family saw me over the holidays, they tried feeding my anorexic-thin body, and I put on a few pounds. But when Armani noticed my waist-line had changed, he fired me for the shows. From there, my career took a downhill slide, and I found myself wandering the streets of Florence, Rome, and Siena, searching for the meaning of my life. In towering, majestic churches, I got down on my knees and cried out for love, without any hope or faith that my prayers would be answered.
I finally hit rock bottom while working in Munich – considering suicide – and cried out in prayer. Little would I guess that God heard my cries and was right there, ready to pick up the pieces of my shattered life.
I soon met a series of strangers whose wise words changed the direction of my steps. By the beer gardens of Munich, I met a small group of street ministers who were handing out New Testaments; and they told me about Christ, who loved me so much to die for me, and who rose again, proving his power over the darkness that had consumed my days. They brought me to church, got me an English Bible, and literally saved my life. During this time, I also met a stranger on the street who boldly told me that I could not “sell beauty,” and that I needed to turn around and go back the way I came – back home to America and to my family, where I belonged.
From nearly ending my life in a cold, empty apartment to climbing the snowy mountains of Germany, discovering a Savior that could give me a new life and the love I so yearned for, I experienced the miracle of being sought out by the Creator of the universe and rescued. In the pages of His Word, I found the true meaning of love and discovered the security that comes from being a child of God.
Since I left the industry, my life has been transformed. Deep down, I always wanted to become a writer. So when I returned home, I took the money I made modeling to go back to school to earn my Master’s degree in Writing and Literature. I began teaching school and working with youth. Soon afterwards, I met my wonderful husband, “the Cowboy,” who always encourages me to use my story, time, and resources to help others. We have been extraordinarily blessed with three beautiful children. My life now has the meaning and purpose I longed for when I was in the modeling industry – to be a wife and a mother, and to help others discover the value that God sees in the heart of every one of His children, no matter how broken their lives may seem.
Over the years, I have taken a lot of time to heal from the past and turn it into purpose. I have fought through the quicksand of unforgiveness, bitterness, pain, and anger. I have sought healing for myself and in my relationships. And I have discovered that when we completely cut the tie with “who we once were” and embrace who we can become, we are free to write a new story for ourselves. Today, my passion is helping others let go of their pasts, release the shame that tries to follow them, and inspire them to know the unconditional acceptance we have in Christ — to know it for themselves, and offer grace to others. If we can reflect God’s heart in a world that needs more of Him, then we have captured the true meaning of life, love, and real beauty.
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