WOODBURY HEIGHTS — Telling all in the audience here that she was “on a mission to love the whole world,” the self-proclaimed “prodigal daughter” exhorted them — especially the middle school-age girls listening to her intently — to do the same.
First, however, they had to recognize their own God-given beauty, distinct from the worldly culture that claims to know what beauty is and flaunts it in places such as “Cosmopolitan” magazine and on reality television.
“Let love, love you. Then, love the whole world.”
Chastity speaker Leah Darrow spoke to the Infant Jesus Parish community here at St. Margaret Church on Thursday, Nov. 17, in front of an audience of 70 that included parishioners and middle-school-age girls.
Dressed in a T-shirt jacket and jeans, the youthful Darrow captivated the crowd with her story of growing up in a devout Catholic household, almost losing her soul in the modeling world as a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” and finding God in a “St. Paul moment” during a photo shoot.
The oldest of six children raised to a devout Catholic father and mother in Oklahoma (“I’m not from around here, I say ‘ya’ll.’”), Darrow and her family would say the rosary every night and attend Mass every Sunday.
She recalled the moment, at the age of 12, when her “perception of God took on a different level,” after her grandfather was murdered by a neighbor.
“After we found out about (my grandfather’s) death, we went to morning Mass at St. James Church,” she said. “I remember praying in the pew, and wondering if anyone really felt the sadness I felt.”
“Then, I looked up at Jesus on the cross, and I knew that God knew exactly how I felt; his son was murdered. This was the first time I really felt a connection to God.”
Nonetheless, her relationship with God would grow tenuous during her high school years after the family moved to St. Louis.
After graduating from college, Darrow became a contestant on “America’s Next Top Model,” a popular reality television program created and hosted by Tyra Banks.
During the program’s taping, Darrow said, she found that the show “violates human dignity, and showcases human brokenness.” Cameramen filmed the competing models 24/7, in bathrooms without doors, and showers without curtains.
Darrow’s “St. Paul moment” happened soon after she was eliminated on the reality show, and she was doing a photo shoot in New York City. She decided this wasn’t the life she wanted, that it degraded her and skewed the “beautiful, real, and true” definition of sexuality and beauty. She walked out.
Darrow called her father to drive from St. Louis to New York to pick her up, went to confession, and found that “after being at war with myself for so long, I was at peace.”
Today, in addition to traveling the world speaking on modesty, conversion, and God’s love, she works as a full-time staff member of Catholic Answers, in both the apologetics and chastity departments.
Darrow wants all women to see the beauty that God has given them and reject the secular culture’s definition of love and beauty, and “virginity as a disease to be gotten rid of through casual sex.”
“The only authority on beauty is God,” she told the audience. “He created you, and you are beautiful.”
After Darrow’s talk, given a standing ovation by all in the church, Infant Jesus pastor, Father Joseph Szolack, and parochial vicar, Father James King, led a procession of the Blessed Sacrament.
A reception followed in the parish hall, where Darrow interacted with the 20 girls from the Infant Jesus youth group.