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Tonya Ruiz: The Anti-Barbie

CBN.com “It seems like since everyone wants to be like her and be her friend, she’s desirable.”

“I’m never going to be like her.”

“She has friends and a boyfriend and clothes…”

“She just always looks so skinny and pretty that I’m like, ‘That can’t be a real person.”

Who is this woman? At age 47 she’s a size zero, six feet tall and an international icon. Whether you like her or not, you know who she is.

When I got together with a group of moms and daughters, I learned that the affect Barbie has on these women is very real.

“The people around me don’t look exactly like her, so I probably can’t be like that.”

I soon discovered that there was a living doll among us -- Tonya Ruiz, a 43-year-old mother of four and former model. She remembers receiving her first Barbie doll at age three.

“My Barbie led a very glamorous life! She was a fashion model. She had dates,” Tonya recalls. “I thought Barbie was beautiful. She was perfect, and I wanted to be Barbie. I wanted to grow up and be Barbie.”

So she did in a way. When she was 16, Tonya set out to become a fashion model.

With its posh fashion houses and trendy restaurants, Beverly Hills is filled with glamour and excess at every turn. It’s a dream world for the average teen-aged girl. But for Tonya, it was here where her life became anything but average.

Tonya signed a contract with one of Beverly Hills’ most prominent modeling agents and became an instant star. She quickly outgrew California and graced magazines and runways in Paris, Tokyo, and Milan. But life as a top model was nothing like what she expected.

“There were men that preyed on the young girls that were modeling,” she says. “There was a lot of drugs involved and offered. A lot of girls had eating disorders, the pursuit of money, the greed. It was a brutal business. There is a very dark side to the modeling industry.”

Tonya experienced the dark side during her months over seas. The pressures of looking perfect and competing for jobs with other models was more than Tonya could handle. So she relied on alcohol and cocaine to relieve her pain.

Tonya as a modelTonya tells The 700 Club, “I was beginning, at that point, to feel really empty and really questioning a lot of things in my life. So it was kind of a relief not to feel anything.”

Tonya lived it up. She would spend all night partying, drinking and eating rich European foods over time. Tonya gained weight -- the kiss of death in the modeling industry.

“My agent told me, ‘You look tired. You look puffy.’ So I started dieting because I didn’t want to be sent home. I wanted to model. I was willing to do whatever it took, and if that meant dieting, I dieted.”

Tonya’s “dieting” turned into bulimia. At 5 feet and 7 inches’, she weighed 108 lbs. The pressure to stay thin was more than Tonya could bear.

“I thought, 'What is wrong with me?' I’m doing what I thought I wanted to do. I’m modeling. I am dating millionaires. I am hanging out back stage at rock concerts. I’m dancing with royalty. I’m doing everything that I thought would make me happy and I didn’t feel happy. I was doing all I thought would make me happy, and I still felt empty. I must have some fatal flaw that I couldn't be happy no matter what.”

Tonya decided to fly home to say goodbye to her family, then end her life.

“All the people that had invested so much of their hopes in me that I was going to be this model,” says Tonya. “I was a failure. So I decided that I couldn’t do anything right, and I decided to kill myself. Just end my life.”

Tonya didn’t feel like she had any self-worth outside of her appearance.

“I had left school at 16. My whole worth in life was based on the way I looked. I couldn’t look perfect so I felt absolutely worthless,” she says.

Just as planned, 18-year-old Tonya went home to California. A friend invited her to a Christian concert at a church.

“After the music, this pastor got up and spoke. He quoted John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ Then he told what I needed to do to accept the Lord. I just couldn’t believe it. He looked out and said, ‘Are you out there? Do you feel empty?’ Finally someone had the answers for my emptiness. He gave an altar call that night and I ran forward.”

Tonya had another major decision to make. Would she continue modeling?

Tonya says, “At that point I hated it. I hated everything about it. I hated people touching me and doing my hair and makeup. I had a lot of anger and bitterness toward it. I just wanted away from it. So when I accepted the Lord, I completely walked away from it.”

…Walked away and began to see herself through God’s eyes.

“I think first we have to look at ourselves and say, ‘Thank You, God for the incredible body that You’ve given me.’ We have incredible bodies, and we really don’t value them,” says Tonya. “We pick them apart. We see what we perceive as flaws, and we just tear ourselves to pieces instead of being thankful for this gift.”

The Ruiz FamilyThese days, Tonya shares that very message with women all across the country. A self-certified “Barbieologist,” Tonya talks about the dangers of idolizing Barbie and has raised her own children to appreciate their bodies just the way they are.

“I had grown up in Barbie’s shadow, and I didn’t want my children to grow up looking to Barbie, magazine covers and the TV as their definition of beauty,” Tonya says. “I realized that if I had kept going I would have killed myself. I had every intention of killing myself. Now I have a family and friends, and my life is so full. I am thankful that I do have such an abundant life in Him.”

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