Britain's next top Christian model

Should beauty of the "inner soul and spirit" have a place on the runway?

Published September 28, 2009 8:29PM (EDT)

Finally, there's a modeling agency espousing the hope that "beauty will not be defined by outer appearance alone." The only catch? Models of Life is also an explicitly Christian company whose current U.K. talent search is strangely reminiscent of a proselytizing tour.

Models of Life operates popular modeling classes, where, according to its Web site, "MOL models are taught to display exemplary beauty through posture, walking, posing, and etiquette training. To complete this vision, MOL models learn how to build character and about God through the Bible." According to one anonymous Observer source, the seminars feature some "rather limp modelling." But MOL does "claim to have affiliates in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, the US, Canada, Australia and Europe" and boasts a number of high-profile bookings. 

Yet, for a company that is so proud of its message, "at a time when the controversy over skinny models reflects how the perception of beauty is evolving," the Observer finds MOL mysterious, elusive and defensive. The agency denied all interview requests, and a woman who does booking for MOL snapped (seemingly with little or no provocation), "What is the problem with what we are doing? In any high street you will find modelling agencies approaching young girls, that is how they operate." Plus, the Observer reports, "The organisation appears to file no accounts and has no permanent UK headquarters."

Now, I'm no expert on this kind of thing, but MOL sure sounds suspicious. Are they a ministry disguised as a modeling agency? (If not, then why are they teaching perspective models "about God through the Bible"?) Something even less savory? Or just a Christian company that's particularly sensitive to criticism?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but -- whether MOL is legit or not -- the Observer piece does get me thinking about religion's place in modeling. Over at Jezebel, Hortense writes, "I'm not quite sure how any agency is going to promote a religious viewpoint when their models are actually working, as the only statements models are typically allowed to make on the runway are those presented by the clothes they're given to wear." Sure, explicitly Christian companies and organizations sometimes need to hire models. But it would be difficult for a single model, let alone an entire agency's worth of them, to make a career on those gigs alone. 

So what, exactly, makes a modeling agency Christian, aside from a vague set of feel-good values? Does MOL forbid its models from posing nude or in lingerie or other revealing garments? Are sexually charged photo spreads a no-no?  Most importantly, what does MOL's professed goal, to promote beauty of the "inner soul and spirit," defined by "philosophy and faith," really mean? Can those traits ever come across in a single, secular magazine ad? Will MOL ever puts its money where its New Testament is and start hiring models based on its ideal of spiritual, rather than physical, beauty? And, if so, how do you expect that will work out for them?

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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