"Why are those people staring at me?" I asked my mom.

"It's because of the way you look, Tonya, you're beautiful."

I was eight years old. At sixteen, I was traveling the world and working as an international Ford fashion model. By eighteen, I'd decided my life was not worth living if I couldn't look perfect. But God had other plans and I became a Christian. I walked away from the fashion industry, eventually married and had four children.

With a family to raise, I wondered, what can I do so my children won't grow up with an unbalanced view of beauty? I knew how influenced I had been by the unrealistic images that I saw on television, movies and in the magazines. Even I had perpetuated that lie as a fashion model. I didn't want my children to grow up comparing themselves with impossible standards of beauty

One afternoon, I attended a ladies luncheon at our church. The speaker told a story:

"While at Disney, I was waiting in a long line with my teenage daughters. I said 'Look around at the people in line and find someone you think is pretty.' Even with a crowd surrounding them, they couldn't find one woman they thought was beautiful."

Unfortunately, those teenage girls' idea of beauty had come from Madison Avenue and could only be achieved on an air-brushed, computer-generated magazine cover. Our culture celebrates physical beauty to an idolatrous extreme and promotes the fallacy that beautiful people lead fairy tale lives.

My husband and I wanted our children to be beautiful on the inside and to lead balanced lives taking care of the unique and wonderful bodies God created for them. So what did we do to counterbalance the culture's message? We taught them that their worth is not measured by their reflection in a mirror.

We made sure they knew that God loves them so much that he sent His only Son to die for them.

We told them, "Only Jesus can fill the empty hole in your hearts."

We bought them their own Bibles, took them to church, and taught them the importance of prayer and daily devotions.

We encouraged them, "The more you act like Jesus -- by being kind, loving, and unselfish -- the more beautiful/handsome you'll be."

In a nutshell, we taught them to look to God instead of the fashion industry. Sounds simple, but it's a vital part of parenting.

Some practical suggestions for raising beautiful children:

• Teach your child the Scripture: 1 Samuel 16:7 For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

• Make only positive comments to your children about their looks.

"People come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors."

"It's great to look like YOU!"

"Celebrate your one-of-a-kind-ness."

"God wants you to take good care of the body He made for you."

"God, the Master Designer, created you and you are a Designer original."

"God loves you just the way you are."

• Limit your child's exposure to television, commercials, and fashion magazines. The average person sees 270 advertisements a day. One study determined that three minutes looking at a fashion magazine will cause a person to feel depressed. There are better things our impressionable children could be doing than filling up on the media's version of beauty and success!

• DON'T make negative comments about your child's looks. Never make hurtful comments to a child about their body. Nicknames like Chubby and Bucky Beaver aren't funny!

Your child is all too aware of their big feet or unusual nose. Instead of being critical -- help them to see the big picture and keep what they perceive as "flaws" in perspective. Teach your child to accept that there are some things we can change about our bodies and some things we can't.

• Don't make negative comments about your own body. Be careful about discussing your weight or going on a diet in front of your children.

• Show appreciation to your Creator. You and your child could stand in front of a full length mirror and say, "Thank you, God, for the incredible bodies that you have given us. Help us to take good care of them."

• Help your children to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly. In this day of super-sized fast food and couch potato entertainment, we all have struggles staying fit. Eating a healthy diet and keeping active are the only solutions! You be the example and your child will follow your example.

Remember, 1 Samuel 16:7 Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. You can teach your child to take care of both the inside and the outside. Start today -- like the Nike ad says, "Just Do It!"


Tonya Ruiz is a Pastor's wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She travels from coast to coast teaching about true beauty. Check out her website at www.TonyaRuiz.com.