(LOS ANGELES) — Jenny McCarthy grew up very fast in the public eye as a sexy pin-up girl for Playboy magazine, but as a young girl growing up in Chicago’s South Side, she was deeply religious.
“[My sisters and I] used to lay with rosaries and statues all over our bodies because we thought that would protect us from Satan,” she said. “I used to have a Jesus poster, the pope was over there, flaming heart of Jesus was over there. And then I had some ‘I heart Jesus’ T-shirts and bags hanging up.”
In other words: “Jesus was my Bieber,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy became a household name co-hosting MTV’s dating game show, Singled Out, in the mid-’90s, but has kept her claim to fame these days as a six-time New York Times bestselling author.
McCarthy’s latest book, Bad Habits: Confessions of a Recovering Catholic, chronicles her devout Catholic childhood and growing up poor, both of which left a deep mark on her.
“We really were hungry a lot of nights,” McCarthy said.
In college, McCarthy said she worked as a bartender, but still struggled to make ends meet.
“I really tried to figure out ways to survive,” she said. “One of them was to flirt with boys in bars, and go back to their place and tell them I’ll meet them in their bedroom in a second, and they’d go in the bedroom. I would go in the refrigerator, I would steal their pizzas and I’d run home.”
In Bad Habits, McCarthy gives a raw and honest portrayal of her young life and, in one part, she even confesses to wetting the bed until she was 10 years old.
“It’s so much better that I realized to tell the truth and be very honest,” she said. “Because that’s the only way that people can relate to you.”
She has always been driven, but especially these days as a single mom raising her 10-year-old son, Evan, who has autism. She is also the host of the reality TV show, Love in the Wild.
“I wouldn’t be nearly as driven for money if I wasn’t a single mother,” she said. “If I had someone to depend on financially and help me out, I might slow it down a bit. But no, I am a workhorse.”
Despite her religious youth, McCarthy said she was a rebel. She worked as a cashier for a Polish grocery store for five years, where she realized that a way out was to pose for Playboy.
“Guys would come in to buy them, they would ask for them and I would pick it up and throw it at them,” she said. “But I was like, ‘If these chicks can do it, I’m sitting here in this store, why couldn’t I do it?'”
And she did. In 1993, Playboy hired the then-21-year-old to pose in the magazine and McCarthy was named Miss October. The following year, she was crowned Playmate of the Year.
“Hef said, ‘You’re Playmate of the Year,'” McCarthy said. “I went, ‘Oh my God, yes,’ and, ‘Oh my God, no.’ I literally went to my car and cried. I cried for about an hour that I was Playmate of the Year.”
Her parents, extremely devout Christians who juggled multiple jobs to send their four daughters to Catholic school, were distraught.
“My mom was the one that was like … ‘I only have three daughters now,'” McCarthy said. “I begged her. I was like, ‘Listen, you raised me to be a good person. This was my only option to get out there. I will be a Playmate that does something great, mom. Trust me and stand by me.'”
They did, and when McCarthy got a $100,000 check for being Playmate of the Year, she gave the money to her parents to pay off their bills and moved them to the Chicago suburbs.
“They were happy and sad all at the same time,” McCarthy said. “They didn’t envision the daughter having to do that to help them out.”
She eventually moved to Hollywood and grew disillusioned with her faith, but McCarthy admitted using it to her advantage when touring for Playmate of the Year.
“Literally, guys would be like, ‘So, you know, what are you doing after this? You’re so beautiful. I think that, you know, we have this connection, that we should maybe walk on the beach later.’ And I would go, ‘Well, as long as we can also bring Jesus, my savior,'” she said.
Still, McCarthy added that she was prone to using men to get through difficult periods in her life. After her divorce from actor/director John Mallory Asher, she famously dated actor and comedian Jim Carrey for more than five years.
“I would use [men] as distractions for my own life,” McCarthy said. “For instance, when Evan was diagnosed with autism, I quickly got into a relationship just to distract from the pain that I was going through. So I got in a relationship with Jim Carrey at the time and really allowed my mind to get caught up in the romance to numb from, really, what I was going through.”
After long-term relationships with Carrey and NFL player Brian Urlacher, a linebacker for the Chicago Bears, McCarthy is single again. About to turn 40 next month, she said she still believes in God, but that doesn’t mean she is giving up her wild side. She recently posed for Playboy again.
“Stereotyping is the biggest mistake that you can ever do on anybody,” McCarthy said. “I am an amazing mother. I am an amazing, I think, author and workhorse. And I’m also an amazing, fun, wannabe-sexy kinda girl.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio