April 18, 2014

Former fashion model: ‘Modesty is about revealing our dignity’

Former fashion model Leah Darrow, third from left, poses with young women who attended her talk on achieving authentic love on April 7 at St. Mary Parish’s Family Life Center in North Vernon. (Submitted photo by Allie Tyler)

Former fashion model Leah Darrow, third from left, poses with young women who attended her talk on achieving authentic love on April 7 at St. Mary Parish’s Family Life Center in North Vernon. (Submitted photo by Allie Tyler)

By Natalie Hoefer

BEDFORD—Catholic fashion model Leah Darrow had what many would call “everything”—experience as a contestant on the reality show “America’s Next Top Model,” a modeling career in New York City, a figure and looks that every fashion magazine says a woman should have.

But then she saw the light—literally.

Darrow, a married mother of an 8-month-old daughter, travels the world now sharing her story of conversion and her message of modesty, most recently at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford and St. Mary Parish in North Vernon on April 6 and 7.

At St. Vincent de Paul Parish’s Shamrock Center on April 6, Darrow recounted the moment when she “saw the light.”

“I was doing an international photo shoot, wearing a very immodest outfit that I wasn’t comfortable in but didn’t have the courage to say no [to],” Darrow told the crowd of more than 200—mostly girls and women. “I was blinded temporarily by a camera flash and turned my head to refocus.

“When my eyes were closed, I saw a silhouette of a man. In my mind, I saw myself cup my hands and raise them up to him, and he wept.

“I knew in my heart that that man was Jesus, and that I was holding up for him what I was doing with my life.

“That image only lasted maybe two or three seconds, but my answer was clear. God had given me so much talent, and I was using none of it.”

Darrow said after she left the shoot and changed into her own clothes, she was verbally attacked by the photographer.

“ ‘If you leave, you will be a nobody!’ he told me. I realized that I had made Christ a nobody.

“When I was young, I never worried about Jesus because I said I would do it when I’m old,” said Darrow, 34. “If you get this now, then you will make a difference in the world. Learn from my mistakes.”

Darrow focused on the need for women to reclaim their beauty as God intended it, not as the fashion industry dictates.

“We see the standard of perfection that the world gives us, and it is wrong,” she said. “It diminishes what God has called us to be.

“I think of my past as part of a culture that encouraged this false sense of beauty. The message I was giving was that if you want to be loved or accepted, then you need to look like me—and that is wrong.”

Darrow listed three ways for women to reclaim their true beauty.

“The first is the fact that modesty frees you,” she said.

“Modesty is a virtue. It has a whole lot more to do with thoughts and actions.

“When modesty is just seen as fashion, then it is just seen as a costume. Modesty is about revealing our dignity of who we are and whose we are.”

Next, said Darrow, is to recognize that beauty is meant to inspire.

“It’s supposed to uplift,” she said. “Beauty’s aim is not to lose, but to love.”

The third step to reclaiming true beauty is to be selfless, Darrow said.

“When we give up ourselves to others, beauty finds its meaning,” she explained, using Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as an example.

“Mother Teresa saw value and dignity in every person because she saw Jesus in everyone. She is to this day the most photographed person in the world. She is beautiful because she loved. She reached out to those that the world thought [were] unlovable and loved them.”

At St. Mary Parish in North Vernon the next day, Darrow addressed nearly 200 girls and women on how to achieve “real, authentic” love, said Kate Eder, who volunteers for the youth and young adult ministry at St. Mary and two other parishes.

“She talked about how society throws unauthentic love in our face, and how we reach for that instead of God,” Eder said.

She listed the four steps Darrow outlined for achieving true love.

“First is having a definition of love,” Eder said of Darrow’s steps. “She quoted St. Thomas Aquinas that true love is desiring the greatest good of the beloved.”

Eder said the second step Darrow mentioned “is having the courage to act. She talked about her realization of how she was living her life and needed to walk out of that photo shoot.”

Next, said Eder, Darrow spoke about “reclaiming a loving relation with Jesus Christ. She spoke about [the sacrament of] confession, and how that lets you start to build up that love again with Christ.”

The last step Eder said Darrow mentioned was to “always reconcile yourself to Christ, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve been to confession or how far away from the Church you are, how you can always come back.”

The last two points struck a chord with the audience, said Eder.

“Multiple people talked about how nice it was to hear her talk about confession,” she said. “She really connected with the crowd.”

Cathy Andrews, director of religious education for St. Vincent de Paul Parish, felt that same connection with Darrow in Bedford.

“She was very authentic,” Andrews said. “There was no superficiality, in either the presentation or the socializing after.”

It was Andrews who arranged for Darrow to speak in southern Indiana.

“The fashion here objectifies these young ladies to the nth degree,” she said. “The pregnancy rate here is very high for single, unwed women. A lot has to do with the fact that they consider themselves objects. That’s how they come across in their talk and behavior.

“I wanted a role model here. It was nice to have someone talk to the girls who’s ‘been there and done that.’ ”

Darrow pulled from her experience on “America’s Next Top Model” to close her talk in Bedford.

“As we walked down the red carpet with all of the news sources filming, all they would ask was who we were wearing.

“I will leave you with this: Who are you wearing?” she asked. “Are you really clothing yourself with the beauty and love of Christ?

“Who you wear reflects what you believe you are worth. You’re worth true beauty. You’re worth believing you can share your beauty through Christ.

“The runway we must choose to walk is the one of life with Christ.” †

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