Speaker exposes dark side of modeling

By | March 7, 2012

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Leah Darrow, a 2004 contestant on ‘America’s Next Top Model,’ spoke at ‘The Freedom Project’ conference March 4 at Holy Spirit Church in Kimberly. She left the modeling business during a racy photo shoot and returned to her Catholic roots. (Amanda Lauer | For The Compass)

Darrow can certainly relate to Bisutti’s situation. Even though she didn’t earn the title of “America’s Next Top Model,” the exposure from the show was enough to launch her modeling career in New York City. She was making an incredible salary, her face was on billboards in Times Square and taxi cabs, but she left her career after what she called “a St. Paul moment” during the middle of a racy photo shoot.

 

An Oklahoma native and lifelong Catholic, Darrow considers herself to be a prodigal daughter. She asked the audience, “What is love?” and shared her experiences during high school and college when she defined love in the wrong way — the physical way. “I didn’t know the value of my sexuality. I didn’t know how great I was,” said Darrow.

The topic of the talk was on modest dressing but encompassed much more. Darrow used her life story to leave a lasting message with the young people she spoke to. “Modesty is the guardian of chastity.” As a teen and young adult Darrow knew how to dress to gain the attention of men. “I was afraid people wouldn’t like me for me,” she admitted.

Being picked to be on “America’s Next Top Model” was a thrill for Darrow, but she had no idea what she was getting into. “There’s nothing real about reality TV,” she said. “Reality TV showcases human brokenness.”

She described the conditions they worked under while on the show. The apartment the models lived in had no doors, no shower curtains, no privacy and the girls were filmed 24 hours a day. “They didn’t let you sleep a lot and there was an element of anxiety at all times.” The producers did everything they could to increase the drama between the contestants. “You should think twice about watching and supporting reality TV,” said Darrow.

The day she walked off her last photo shoot was not only the day she quit the modeling business but the day Darrow quit sin and the whole lifestyle it represented. “I was sick of giving myself to my boyfriends. They were great guys but they were just as confused as I was. We were all feeding from the same lie.”

The last words she heard from the photographer as she left the set are as clear today to Darrow as when he said them. “You’re going to be a nobody.” Her reply to him was inspired. “Do you promise?”

Walking down Fifth Avenue afterwards Darrow remembered questioning herself and how she was going to pay her bills if she didn’t have a job. When she got back to her apartment she called her father and said, “Get me today or I’m going to lose my soul.” He immediately drove across the country to pick her up. When he got there he told her how happy he was to see her and then said they were going to church so she could go to confession. She was reluctant but he didn’t back down, “You said you needed to come home. The church is your home.”

At the church Darrow told the priest she was scared to be there. Saying her sins out loud made them real for her. “When I heard his words of absolution, it was like nothing I’d ever heard before,” said Darrow. “I never in my life felt at peace until that moment.”

After leaving the modeling world Darrow worked in the field in which she earned her degree. One speaking engagement turned into a series of speeches and eventually a career working as a speaker and apologist for Catholic Answers.

There were several messages Darrow hoped to get across to youth. “There is no sin that is too great — God’s mercy can take over anything,” she said. “(Young people) need to define what love (really) is and they need to start questioning the culture and ask if it’s really in line with what they want.”

Spreading this message can be a bit overwhelming at times for Darrow. “I was born on June 24, the feast day of John the Baptist, and his words speak to me — one voice crying out in the desert. But that’s not really what it is because my voice joins with many other voices and my voice joins with the heart of every single person who hears this because no matter where they are in life, this resonates with them that there’s something more to life than just this.”

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