This is a post I wrote last week (with just a few small tweaks) but didn’t get around to posting before I left for the March for Life. (More on that in my next post!) Enjoy!
I love going to Benedictine College! We have too much fun. We also have great speakers who visit. A few days ago Leah Darrow, who was once on America’s Next Top Model, came and told her amazing story.
As a little girl, Leah told us, she had experienced an epiphany one day concerning her future. She ran to her mom and told her she was going to do something, something big and great. Her mom asked her what this thing was. And Leah said “I don’t know. But it’s going to be great!”
Many years later, Leah was a contestant on America’s Next Top Model. But I don’t think this was quite the sort of greatness her childhood self had in mind. She didn’t wind up winning but Leah kept modeling and living a lifestyle that did nothing but hurt her in the long run. Then, one day, something happened. Leah had accepted a photo shoot modeling revealing clothes. Contrary to what you may be thinking, Leah had actually been raised religious. Her family were Catholics, they went to Mass every Sunday, and were overall pretty devout. Yet, at age 15 Leah lost her virginity. After that she had a string of relationships that involved giving herself to men who didn’t really care about her. Then of course, she got involved in modeling, wound up on “reality” TV, and after found herself at this photo shoot. That was where her reconversion (or reversion) happened.
I suppose we often think conversions happen during emotional and intimate conversations with super-holy people or maybe at a church or a park. But for Leah it was at that photo shoot. In what she described in terms of a vision, Leah was filled with the knowledge and the sense that this was not the greatness she had wanted when she was a child. God said to her: she was made for greatness…and this wasn’t it.
She told everyone she had to leave, she just had to. People told her she couldn’t just go and that she needed this for her portfolio. Leah got changed and was making for the door. The people kept talking, telling her she needed this for her career. They told her if she left she’d be a nobody. Then Leah turned and said in a voice that must have been so earnest and so desperate, “do you promise?” She wanted to be a nobody to these people. She didn’t want anyone to offer her these kind of jobs again. She wanted out.
Later that day she called her parents. And told her dad right off “if you don’t come get me I’m going to lose my soul.” Well, you can bet her dad came to get her! But before they left New York he said they should go to confession. She hadn’t been in a long time and tried to wriggle out of it: “oh, that’s a great idea, and you know dad we will go…when we get home.” But her dad saw right through that.
Now, for those of you who aren’t Catholic, I know there’s a lot of misunderstanding on what confession is. So, let me offer my I’m-not-a-theologian-but-I-know-something explanation. Basically, when a Catholic goes to confession, they start beforehand by looking at their life and seeing where they have failed and where they can do better. We call this an examination of conscience and it can be very humbling and very helpful. Then we enter the confessional and speak to the priest. However, he’s not just a priest. In confession, the priest represents Jesus; it is as if we are speaking to Him. We say how long its been since our last confession and tell our sins. Seems simple doesn’t that? (We’ll get back to it.) Then the priest may offer some advice or ask us to express our contrition for our sins in prayer. He tells us what penance we are to do for our sins. Most often it’s some form of prayer. For example: “say 3 our fathers” or “say a decade of the rosary while you meditate on ___” . Or it may be “apologize to that person you said you insulted” or what have you. Then the priest gives us absolution. By God’s power he forgives us of our sins. They are gone. Forever wiped away. Erased totally. And we begin afresh.
So, that may be a longer explanation of confession than you ever wanted to hear, but there it is. When Leah went into confession what she started by saying was to the effect of “I don’t want to be here.” But the priest helped her through it and in what I can imagine to be a very powerful experience she freely confessed her sins. It’s not always easy to do that, especially when you have some big ‘uns to confess or when you’ve been away from confession for a while. I know from experience. But I also know, and I’m confident Leah would agree, confession is powerful and healing. That’s why Jesus started it. Yeah, we could go pray privately and admit we’ve done wrong but there’s just something about having to look at yourself honestly and then say out loud to another person what it is you’ve done. It challenges you and heals you. The promiscuous lifestyle Leah led and what she told us in her talk were only “the tip of the iceberg” of everything she had done. But she was forgiven of all of it and all was forgotten.
Leah mentioned a quote in her talk and it’s a quote I love.
“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness” -Pope Benedict XVI
Leah realized that the life she was living was not what God intended for her. It was not greatness. And the relationships she had, those were not greatness either. She was made for better. And so are all of us. We were all made for greatness and we need to stop settling, stop lying to ourselves, and stop accepting comfort from a world that doesn’t care a wink about us.
The life she lived in the reality TV/modeling world did give Leah some amazing insights that she shared. Firstly, reality TV is anything but real. A person is followed 24/7 (on Top Model there weren’t even doors on the bathrooms or curtains on the showers) for 7-10 days and then they take 45 ish minutes of that (and of course its the most drama-filled 45 minutes they can find out of all those days). And that’s what you see and what you judge people based on. Don’t fool yourselves you do judge. And so do I, sadly. Leah also gave some interesting statistics about modeling. Firstly, in women’s magazines 100% of the images of women are edited or enhanced in some way in post-production. In men’s magazines 63% (I may be mis- remembering by a percent) of the pictures of women are computer-generated. So, none of its real. Those models in women’s magazines don’t even look like that and a majority of the women in men’s magazines don’t even exist. Leah saw firsthand how living a lifestyle of hook-ups, revealing clothes, and selling yourself for other’s enjoyment damages a person. She also saw up-close and personal the methods industries use to sell their products and perpetuate this harmful lifestyle.
Surely we were made for more than this? For more than these doctored images, for more than accepting something fake as our standard of beauty. Greatness isn’t about physical appearance anyways. Look at Mother Teresa. She was an amazing, saintly, woman who never wore makeup any of those times you saw her on TV or in newspapers helping the poorest of the poor. But, because of her faith and trust in God she was able to do amazing and great things by following Him.
The dating culture of today, the hook-up culture–it doesn’t help anyone. It is not greatness. All those relationships Leah had when she was younger, that was not greatness. After that one fateful night when she was 15 Leah went into the bathroom and cried because she knew something was very wrong with what had just happened.
I think there’s a lot we can take away from Leah’s story about what is wrong with our culture and about who we are to be. But more than that we can see the power of forgiveness and see right before our eyes the truth that people do change, that a person leading that life doesn’t always have to lead that life. They can get out, just like Leah did and they can go on to live that greatness to which they are called.
For more information about Leah Darrow visit her website’s about page here.