WARNING: graphic language, sexual assault
It could have been me. No, I was not in the pageant where Trump admitted to walking in on unclothed women before the show because he was the owner and “I sort of get away with things like that.” I have been backstage at fashion shows and photo shoots in various stages of undress with men walking around, taking good looks.
And I was at the opening of his Club USA in NYC. It was customary for modeling agencies to be invited to club openings. I was an “up-and-comer” with elite Model Management at the time and happened to be in town. I was 15.
Most models were younger than the drinking age limit of 21, but that mattered not. When Donald Trump came over to introduce himself to me (or kiss me without waiting), luckily my agent introduced me as “the baby” and also introduced my mom. Perhaps that is why he didn’t make a move on me, a naïve innocent southern girl. Lord knows, I wouldn’t have had a clue how to act or say no. I was in the career of being an object, treated like an object.
I was just a model in the business of prettiness.
My body was a clothes hanger on set and inspected and dissected most of the time. I was constantly told to lose weight. Hearing Trump speak about Miss Universe Alicia Machado: “You know, she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem” as well as watching Trump accompany her to the gym, triggered flashbacks. My nearly naked body has been discussed as if my spirit was not present in the skin. Breasts too small, waist too big. I was sometimes given the look of approval, and at the time, my career depended on it. But when the size of my body didn’t pass muster, I was sent to a trainer at a fancy West LA gym. I was broke and sad and “overweight.” You know the best place for a person like that in LA? I can tell you, it’s not at a gym where famous and fit actors work out. You know how much weight I lost? Zero pounds. You know how much of a beating my self-esteem took? A ton.
I know what it’s like to have to work out with a smile on my face because someone had power over me and wanted me to look a certain way. And that is messed up.
I have found myself in situations (yes, more than one) where I have been touched up my skirt, “grabbed by the p*$$!,” without permission. And when I said “no” to a person who had power (age, money, connections) over me, I was dropped off on the street in the middle of the night, locked out of my apartment until the next morning.
When I was younger, I thought it was all my fault – I wore a short skirt, I was drunk, I led him on.
I believed I had gotten myself into this trouble. I was used to being treated like an object, only a hot body to be manipulated. I allowed it. I deserved it.
That was then.
Today, I will be damned if I stay silent when the person running for President of the United States of America has bragged about violating women. NO!
This has taken me a while to type up because the more I watch the videos, the more I hear those words, the more I realize that it could’ve been and indeed it has been me. The pretty girl people like to hug just a little too long and a little too tight. The minister even while wearing a freaking robe made to feel like a sex object by men who want to know what’s under my “sexy black dress,” not paying attention to what I say because I am “so pretty to look at.”
This has been my life, and the lives of 1 out of every 6 women. It is not ok. And it is past time to step up and speak out.
I feel I have shielded my 5-year-old daughter from most of the horror played out on TV and online.
It is easier for me to talk about war and hunger than how a man whose name she knows “jokes” about using girls' and women’s bodies for his personal enjoyment. But she already knows the compliments and asks for hugs.
I pray to God that I am teaching her about proper touch and the ability to say no. I pray that she will never know the pressure to look a certain way, wear a certain size, weigh a certain amount of pounds. I pray that she will never know the violating ogling of a man more than twice her age, undressing her with his eyes. I pray that she will never experience unwanted touches. And I pray that she has the voice to yell “NO!” if someone ever tries anything. And that she will feel comfortable telling her parents if anything ever happens.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” BS. Words matter.
May the words we use and stories we tell continue to shine a bright light on the darkness that is misogyny and sexual assault. So help us all, dear God.
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.