COLUMBUS - Wearing a pleated blue skirt, black high heels and a flashy ring on her right hand, Leah Darrow doesn't hide her love for fashion.
Former America's Next Top Model contestant, Leah Darrow, speaks to students at Scotus in the Dowd Activity Center Thursday afternoon about her path through life and how it has affected her Catholic faith. Darrow is now an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers.
She enjoyed it so much that it lead her to become a contestant on the reality TV show "America's Next Top Model," and later, a career in the industry.
She was successful, earning up to $16,000 a day on some fashion shoots. But an incident during one particular shoot for an international magazine changed her life.
Darrow, an Oklahoma native, shared her story in Columbus Thursday, speaking at Scotus Central Catholic. Her journey is one of faith, love and forgiveness of self.
Raised a Catholic, Darrow never shied away from her religion, but admits that she didn't always live her life according to her faith. Those transgressions stayed with her and developed into a self-hate.
"Sometimes you are your own worst enemy because you are reminding yourself over and over and over" of the past, Darrow said.
Those decisions, she said, included abusing her body through "impure" relationships in high school and college and drinking.
"I was Catholic and told everyone I was Catholic. But my actions were definitely not Catholic, definitely not Christian," she said.
Darrow said she knew of God's mercy and forgiveness, but never really believed in it. So she continued on her path that revolved around the material world as she pursued a modeling career in New York. It wasn't until that magazine photo shoot that she began to have a conversion experience.
The people in charge wanted her to give a sexy and sultry look wearing skimpy outfits. During the photography session, there was an instant when she said everything changed. Describing it as a spiritual and mystical moment, it hit her that she was nothing more than a puppet.
"I realized in that moment that nobody in this industry really does care at all about me. They were using me like I used people," she said.
She quit on the spot and left the modeling profession. She called her dad, who was living in St. Louis, to come pick her up in New York and take her home.
"I had no idea what I had just done. I had just ended my career. No more $8,000 checks. No more money. No more fame. No more red carpet events. No more celebrities."
Those were all things she thought would make her happy, but they came at a cost. She felt like she was losing her soul.
Her conversion didn't happen as soon as her dad picked her up. Just wanting change wasn't enough.
"In my mind I had this little fairy-ish girl who just twirls and says, ‘I've changed,' and then it's done. Unfortunately it doesn't work like that," Darrow said.
Her dad pushed her to go to church where she went to confession. It was then that she said she received mercy and forgiveness and felt at peace. That feeling lead her to pledge to never again believe the lies of our culture that lead her on the path that she was on before.
She said she never really understood what love meant and was looking for it in ways of the world. But now she defines love as desiring the greatest good for God.
"If you really love someone you're not taking them to the brink of sin. If you really love someone you are not asking them to engage in something that will hurt you and them," Darrow said.
After returning home to St. Louis, Darrow began working with Catholic Answers, a lay-run apostolates organization. It is a long way from the fashion runways, but a change that she said others can take, too.
"Never let anyone tell you that you can not change. Never let anyone tell you that you can not do something better than what you are doing right now," she said.