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‘Top Model’ turned role model

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Aliceyn Magelky, New Earth, Diocese of Fargo; Reprinted by The Catholic Spirit

Leah Darrow, a speaker at the 2014 Rediscover: Catholic Celebration this October, shares her journey back to the Church

After walking out of a modeling shoot for an international magazine, Leah Darrow, former contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” walked to her apartment in New York City, called her dad and said, “Daddy, if you don’t come get me, I’m going to lose my soul.”

With those words, Darrow’s journey back home, back to the Church, began.

Darrow, the oldest of six children, remembers her parents stressing the importance of prayer. Every night, her family prayed the rosary together. Despite the chaos that may ensue when wrangling six squirming kids, it’s those moments growing up that Darrow cherishes.

“I was blessed to have parents that encouraged us to pray together every day,” Darrow said. “Often our prayer time would get loud and distracting, but I was listening. So, I try to tell all parents that prayer matters. Please pray with your children.”

At 15, Darrow’s family moved from a farm in Oklahoma to St. Louis. At that age, she was desperate to find her place. For her, that meant getting a boyfriend.

Soon, a homecoming dance was coming. Always a fan of fashion, Darrow couldn’t wait to go shopping. With a new dress and shoes, Darrow was ready for the dance until a friend approached her about something very unfamiliar.

A prom to remember

“So, Leah, are you ready for it?” Darrow recalled a friend asking her about the homecoming dance. Darrow, unsure what he meant, played along with his inquiry.

Little did she know that “it” meant sex. When Darrow realized what “it” really meant, she got scared.

“All I knew was sex was reserved for husband and wife, but at that point I just wanted to stop talking about it. I swept it under the rug and tried to forget about it,” Darrow said.

The night of the dance came and Darrow admitted she had two choices, “choose authentic love, love we’re made for, or choose imitation love, the kind that tries to be the real thing but is filled with lots of empty promises.”

Darrow chose a path in life that forever changed it.

“I chose imitation love and lost my virginity that night. I fell into those empty promises of love, and did something I’m so not proud of,” Darrow confessed. “Sometimes we want love so bad that we will take the imitation over the real, but it’s time to reclaim love.”

For the next several years, Darrow continued on a path that led her farther away from God.

“I believed the lies of Satan and continued to look to the world for validation,” said Darrow.

On to the big time

Throughout high school and college, Darrow had done small modeling gigs. When she had the opportunity to audition for the reality show “America’s Next Top Model,” Darrow jumped at the chance. She moved to New York City and got a spot on the third season of the show. There, Darrow continued to play into the desires of the world.

“When I got on the show, modesty went right out the window. The first thing I noticed was the doors had been taken off the bedrooms and bathrooms.

“We had no shower curtains. Cameras were everywhere at all times. Every private moment was filmed.” Darrow explained. “But, I had signed a contract that would allow the producers to sue me for $1 million if I refused to do something while filming.”

Although eliminated early on, Darrow thought she would go forward with modeling and use the fame from the show to catapult her career.

“Vanity was all over me,” she said. “Up to that point, I had been doing shoots for high-end clothing and playing it a bit safe. But, then I got a call from photographers for an international magazine asking me to do something a lot different than what I was used to doing. Because my vanity was so thick and I wanted more validation from the world, I agreed to the shoot.”

It was during that shoot when Darrow had an encounter with God that would thrust her back toward the Church.

“I did a rookie move and looked into the flash. It was in that flash that I could see myself in those itty-bitty clothes. And, then I could see a male figure with his hands open and empty,” Darrow said, recalling a vision of Jesus.

“I realized I had used all my talents and gifts for me, not for him. It was like something piercing my heart, and I couldn’t finish the shoot.”

Darrow left the shoot, walked to her apartment, phoned her dad and waited for him to make the 2,000- mile trip to New York City.

Sister of the prodigal son

“You know the parable of the prodigal son; well, I’m his sister,” Darrow said. “I waited in my apartment, anxious with knots in my stomach. I was expecting him to lay into me.”

Instead of a lecture, Darrow’s father greeted her with the “biggest smile I have ever seen and arms opened wide,” she said.

Filled with physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion and ready to leave the city, Darrow started to leave the apartment with her dad to make the trek home.

“As we were walking out the door, and I was waiting for him to follow me, he held up his finger at me and said, ‘but first, we go to confession,’ ” Darrow recalled. “My dad could see the fear pop on my face, so he continued, ‘You called me to take you home. Church is home. I’m taking you there.’ ”

Still trying to avoid God’s call, Darrow tried to pick a church far from her apartment in hopes of giving the impression she had tried, and expecting her father to give up. They arrived at a darkened parish, but decided to attempt to find someone. To Darrow’s surprise —and a bit of horror — they found the confessional, the green light was lit and a priest was waiting inside.

“It was like God had rolled out the red carpet for me to arrive,” Darrow said. “At first I was very defensive, but then I said to the priest, ‘I don’t know how to be honest with God.’ ”

The priest guided Darrow through her confession, reminding her of God’s love and mercy.

“I gave everything to Christ. I had emptied my pockets of my sin, and Christ made me new!” she said.

From that day forward, Darrow started rebuilding her broken relationship with Christ. Today, she speaks to audiences around the world on topics of mercy, conversion, human dignity, modesty and chastity. She has been seen on Eternal Word Television Network’s “Journey Home” and headlined several Steubenville Conference sessions.

“I know I can’t change my past, but I won’t let it dictate my future. With God’s grace and courage, I’m able to speak to show that change is possible,” Darrow said. “My story is nothing new, but maybe others don’t have the courage to stand with a microphone. I want everyone to know that God is calling us all home to him.”