Before she found faith, model Mayra Gomez lived the dream.
She had the pretty face, a place in Paris and the party life. But once Christianity meant more to her than modeling, her dream changed.
She sought a way to merge her faith with fashion. The result? Model4Jesus, a nonprofit organization made up of models whose fundraising fashion shows feature a modest wardrobe and a Christian message.
More than 300 women, most from around Tampa Bay, have modeled with the organization since Gomez started it in 2005. For them, being exploited isn't an option. Spreading that message, Gomez said, is part of the ministry's mission. The group will host a fashion show Saturday in Town 'N Country.
"I did the risque clothing down the runway, the Miami Fashion Week, the partying," said Gomez, 38, who lives in Odessa. "It's not all it's cracked up to be."
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Gomez began modeling at 13. At 19, she joined the U.S. Army and served for eight years. After that, she moved to Florida where her mom and sister had moved while she was stationed overseas.
But Gomez didn't stay long. She moved to Paris for a couple of months to kick off her career in modeling, then returned to Tampa, where she hosted Salsa Mania, a Latin music video show on the Telemundo network and continued to work as a model.
Her outlook drastically changed in 1999, however, after attending an annual religious conference called Acquire the Fire. She became a Christian and began evaluating her life. Her values, she realized, no longer lined up with what she saw in her line of work.
"Just open up a fashion magazine," she said, noting scantily clad celebrities, half‑naked ladies and women wearing a Size 0. "What kind of example is that? A full‑figured girl feels bad about herself because she can't compete with a Size 0."
Gomez continues to model and has held an array of jobs, including commercials for Bright House and Sweetbay, she said. No matter the job, she tries to promote modesty in the industry and to convey the idea that a woman's worth is in more than her pretty face.
"I refuse to allow a photographer to exploit me," she said. "I don't take certain jobs."
If she has to wear a top with a plunging neckline, she wears a tank top underneath.
The Model4Jesus motto is "Be a model. Don't just look like one."
The proceeds from every fashion show go to organizations that cater to women's issues. This weekend's show benefits Pregnancy Care Center.
The show means a lot to Vivian Germain, one of the models. She is just over six months pregnant.
"We're being told we have to look a certain way and weigh this much to look pretty," said Germain, 37, who lives in Lutz. But "Model4Jesus is not so much focused on the physical."
And she doesn't think anyone should be.
"We all have something to share," Germain said. "We're all beautiful."