Home Diocesan News Former ‘Top Model’ candidate finds meaning, joy, away from the glamour
Former ‘Top Model’ candidate finds meaning, joy, away from the glamour Print E-mail
Written by Ann-Margaret Lambo, Special to the Exponent   
Friday, 15 December 2017 15:02

NORTH CANTON – Leah Darrow wanted to be America’s next top model, she told an audience at Walsh University here Oct. 23, but God had other plans.  

Darrow, an early season contestant on reality TV’s “America’s Next Top Model,” shared her journey – “from fashion model to role model”– at Walsh’s Barrette Business and Community Center as part of her visit to the diocese. The event was sponsored by the university and by Men and Women United for Life.

Earlier that day, Darrow spoke to the student body at Canton Central Catholic High School, and on Oct. 22 to parents and teens at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Basilica, Youngstown. A group of students from University Parish Newman Center, Kent, came to the basilica and spoke with her afterwards.

“She is probably the best speaker I ever heard,” said Judy Welsh, president of Men and Women United for Life, who praised Darrow for her frankness in telling her story of heartbreak and disillusionment but also of God’s mercy and genuine human love “and what [these qualities] really mean.”

More than 400 came for the talk. Ben Walther, Walsh’s director of campus ministry and a local Christian musician, introduced the internationally-known Catholic speaker and author.

After her national debut on “Top Model” Darrow said, she spent several years as a professional model in New York City. She was totally submersed in the lifestyle – the good, the bad and the ugly.

“Once I got on the show I thought everything would be great,” Darrow explained. “I was looking for validation, for identity, for worth. Any person who is on a show like that is definitely searching, and seeking, and insecure, and lonely – all of us are, regardless if we want to admit or not, we are. We’re searching for something. We want to be told we are good. That desire is not wrong, but how we look for it can lead us on a path that’s not always the best for us.”

Darrow was eliminated from America’s Next Model but she found success as a model in the city that never sleeps. Her face was on billboards and the sides of taxis. She walked the Fashion Week runways in Europe. She worked with major fashion houses and designers.

And, each check for each assignment “had a comma in it” (totaling $1,000 or more), she said with a laugh.

“I thought life was amazing,” Darrow said. “I thought money would make me happy. Then I got money and I wasn’t. I thought beauty would make me happy and I had people who would do me up, with hair and makeup and all this other crazy stuff, but that didn’t.”

Yet Darrow continued her pursuit of success, material items, and “stuff.” Over time, her life became something she didn’t recognize any more. And she drifted further from God.

An extreme feminist by her own description, she did not believe in marriage or children, wanted to have a lot of money and wanted to find a man who had a lot of money.

“My life was all about stuff and things,” Darrow said. “And it was all about me. I always put myself first. I was vain. I was prideful. I would say to myself: ‘I’m doing what’s best for me. I have to make my way. I’m a professional woman in New York and I’m going to make it. I’m going to show somebody that I’m going to make it.’”

Before she knew, Darrow found herself waking up, more than once, in the hospital emergency department after overdosing on drugs or alcohol. She justified her situations with the I-am-a-modern-woman-who-needs-to-prove-herself mentality.

“My life was a mess,” Darrow said, “but you would have never known because I was on the cover of magazines [and] my bank account was doing really. I was pretending like crazy.

Darrow’s epiphany came during a photo shoot for an international magazine. During the shoot, Darrow became more and more uncomfortable. After looking into the flash of the camera – “a rookie move” – Darrow had to take a break while her eyes cleared.

While she waited for clear vision, she experienced clarity in her heart. In that moment, she heard God say, “I made you for more.”

The phrase was repeated several times in those few seconds and she ultimately ran out of the photo shoot. The photographer hollered after her that if she left the job she would be a nobody. Darrow’s response stunned even her: “Do you promise?”

It was the first time she had been honest with herself, she said.

“I knew this was real,” Darrow said. “So when I got back to my apartment I did the only thing a girl could do. I called my dad.”

Darrow’s father drove 2,000 miles to pick up his daughter. Once she returned to her parents’ home in St. Louis, they helped guide her back to her faith. There wasn’t an instant conversion, but over time she realized “that the only person who could change my life was the one person who died so that I could have life.”

Darrow now travels the world speaking about her experiences, her conversion, and the virtues of modesty and chastity, in light of St. Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, and the New Evangelization.

A full-time motivational speaker, Darrow appears on secular and religious media programs and venues and spoke on behalf of international youth at a United Nations panel in July 2011.

She noted that she and her husband, Ricky, live in St. Louis, Mo., and are expecting their fourth child.

Darrow also had something to say to her predominantly college student audience.

“As you enter into college life, university life, you realize that life sucks,” Darrow said, with a deadpan tone and a smile – though “not all the time, of course.”

“It’s a time in your life when you have to make choices on your own. You have to get up, on your own, to an alarm that you set. You gotta get your butt to class, you gotta do the work; no one is going to do it for you. Whatever grades you earn, you earn.”

“It’s a wonderful time in your life, yet it’s an incredibly uncomfortable [time] and when we are uncomfortable is when we are growing. When you are comfortable, when things are just fine, when there are no problems, I promise you, you are not growing.

“When you have to push yourself a little bit further, that’s when you know you are in a sweet spot in life,” Darrow said.

This “sweet spot,” she offered, is God working in an individual’s life, as gold tested in a furnace. She continued that God “ordained” everyone sitting in the audience, with power to do important things.

“God is here, my friends. He is here with us,” Darrow said. “As we go along through our evening, it is good for you to remember that we are not alone.”


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