From a young age, Nicole Weider loved being in front of the camera. She started modeling at age six. During her teen years, though, Nicole took modeling to the next level, and at age 15 she moved to Los Angeles to try to make it big.

Not Exactly Right for the Job

Nicole was not prepared for the criticism that began almost as soon as she arrived. “I signed with an agency, and immediately she was like, ‘You are 5’10” and you’re tall enough, but you’re too heavy. You need to lose weight. Your hips are too wide. You need to stop playing volleyball.’ She told me I was building my gluts and my thighs (by playing volleyball) so she was like, ‘You have to thin out.’

“That was the first time I was ever told that I had to lose weight.  I felt devastated, but I wanted a chance to be able to be a model, so I started dieting.”

Nicole’s self-esteem plummeted. She became obsessed with trying to make it in the modeling world, but on the inside she felt empty.

When Nicole was 18, her agent criticized Nicole’s body from another angle. “She told me, ‘Nicole, your body is too curvy. You can never do high fashion, but you should do lingerie work.'”

So she did, modeling lingerie for big name fashions like Victoria’s Secret. Her self-esteem, though, took another big hit.

“I felt really degraded,” Nicole says. “I was showing off my skin, and I had to make a living. I was living on my own, but I was taking all these jobs that were compromising me, and I just felt really degraded and empty and sad.”

From Bad to Worse 

When going in for auditions or photo shoots, Nicole kept comparing herself to the other models. “When I got a job, the photographer would tell me, ‘Stick your chest out,’ and ‘I want you to wear this lingerie outfit,’ and I just remember thinking, ‘This is showing too much. I feel really insecure.’

“I started to feel insecure with myself on set,” she recalls. “My agents were saying, ‘There’s a modeling agency in Miami that’s interested, but you need to lose ten pounds.’ So i was never perfect enough to please my agents. Everything in the modeling world was tearing me down. The only thing that would make me happy was when I would get the pictures back from my shoot, but even then I was like, ‘They’re so retouched. I feel like it kind of doesn’t look like me.'”

Nicole began to suffer from anxiety and experienced panic attacks. At the age of 23, she reached the point where she knew she couldn’t do it anymore. And she quit. “I went into this deep depression, and it was so bad that I closed off everyone in my life. I didn’t leave my house. I had to move back in with my mom. It was a really bad time in my life.”

While Nicole explains, “I had a Christian friend I knew since high school. She was telling me that God has a plan for me and that my identity is not based on modeling and being sexy. She was like, ‘You know Nicole, you can use your story to help other people. You can be an inspiration.’

“I just remember thinking, I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to just parade around in lingerie in order to get work. Maybe I should listen to her, and maybe I should start reading the Bible and figuring out who I am on the inside. Not that I didn’t know who I was, but I didn’t know what my calling was.”

Nicole started going to church with her friend and began reading Scripture. She became curious, sought out more knowledge about God and pursued a relationship with Him.

“I just fell in love with God,” she says. “I wanted a fresh start, and I just wanted to get healthy again.”

Nicole enrolled in courses at a community college, and over time her self-esteem improved. She started writing about her journey and wanted to share what God had done and was still doing with others.

“I wanted people to know the damaging effects of the modeling industry, and I wanted them to know that it really takes a toll on people’s self esteem.”

Exactly Perfect for This Job

So four years ago, at the age of 24, Nicole founded Project Inspired, an online community for Christian girls. The site has articles on all the things teen girls want to know about — relationships, beauty, fashion, boys — but the information is filtered through the eye of God and offered with biblical standards in mind. Nicole holds weekly online chats with girls on her site. “I wanted also to have a personal relationship with all of them as much as I could, so I started doing these video chats online so I could talk to them, and I could give them advice and connect with them.”

Approximately 180,000 teens visit Project Inspired each month. “They just love it,” says Nicole. “They come to it for support, and they meet other Christian girls on there. And there’s a chat room. It’s a really beautiful and safe community.”

Nicole is thrilled with how God is using her story. The 28-year-old Oregon native is now a wife and a mom, and says she’s happier now than she’s ever been.

“I’ve never been more confident in who I am,” she says, “but it’s only because of God’s love for me and because I found my identity in who God made me to be. I was trying to please the world. I was trying to please people who didn’t really care about me, people like my agents who didn’t care about me. They just cared about what I could do for them, whereas God says, I created you perfectly and wonderfully, and I love you just the way you are.

“I’ve seen God work in my life, and I just want to show people that love He has.”