Pop star Katy Perry raised the ire of parents last fall when she taped a segment for preschoolers on “Sesame Street” in a dress that appeared to have a plunging neckline, forcing the children’s program to yank the segment before it ever ran on television. Singer Lady Gaga appeared on the cover of Vogue Hommes Japan wearing only pieces of raw meat strung together to create a skimpy bikini.
The entertainment industry has long presented attractive young female performers in various states of undress to millions worldwide, often to young people on whom it makes a significant impact.
It’s scandalous, and a waste of time and talent, says model and Catholic speaker Leah Darrow.
“There is no benefit in watching circus freaks perform. They’re using their God-given talents in unproductive ways,” Darrow told Our Sunday Visitor. “When I ask teens, ‘Are their outfits appropriate?’ They say no. But I tell them when they watch their videos over and over, they’ll begin to think the way they dress and act is no big deal. In one of Lady Gaga’s videos [“Alejandro”] she dresses as a nun and eats a rosary. That’s not entertainment; it’s just a bunch of sleazy images.”
Darrow herself was once a part of the upscale fashion world in New York City and was a contestant on the reality TV show “America’s Next Top Model,” but had a change of heart and now works full time as a Catholic speaker. Her favorite speaking topics include chastity, modesty and women in the Church.
“My focus is on helping women be the best they can be,” Darrow said.
Darrow, 31, grew up in St. Louis and began modeling in college. She auditioned and was accepted for “America’s Next Top Model,” and became one of 14 woman who made it on the show during its third season.
“It was stressful and uncomfortable. You didn’t know anyone on the show, and there was a lot of pressure to be perfect. The girls could be very catty,” she told OSV.
Darrow said she was both hurt and relieved when she was eliminated.
She went to New York City to pursue a modeling career. She drifted away from the practice of the Faith. Although she remained close to her parents, they were unhappy with many of her lifestyle choices.
“Although not all modeling is bad, much of it is dehumanizing. The dignity of the person is of little importance. You’re just a body,” Darrow said. “And, it’s also very important what parties you go to and who you are with. A lot of people are sad in the industry, although they cover it up. You’re just supposed to do your job, be a professional.”
Despite the money and notoriety, Darrow was unhappy and tired.
It was on one particular modeling shoot for an international magazine that she decided it was time to go home.
She met with the photographer, and was given a particularly skimpy outfit to wear. She was embarrassed to put it on, but went ahead, telling herself it was just a job and she had to do it.
As the shoot was nearly complete, she had moment of grace. “I knew that the way I was living, I wasn’t being authentic to my faith,” she told OSV.
She quit on the spot, and went home crying. She said, “I called my dad and said, ‘If you don’t come and get me, I’m going to lose my soul.’ He said, ‘Sure, baby,’ and drove all the way from St. Louis to New York City to get me.”
As a Catholic speaker, Darrow delivers as many as eight talks each month, most before high school and college audiences. Modesty has become a favorite topic.
“Modesty is more than just the length of a hemline. It’s about our conversations, how we treat people, and how we love others,” she said. “Modesty protects our purity and the mystery of a person. In our society, it gets a bad rap. It’s actually quite attractive.”
Darrow has become involved in Pure Fashion, a faith-based program in which teen girls participate in modest fashion shows (see sidebar). She helped bring Pure Fashion to St. Louis.
Her focus now is on being a good Catholic, learning her faith better (she’s earning a master’s degree in pastoral theology from Ave Maria University) and reaching out to others through her public speaking.
Darrow has found speaking on chastity and modesty both heartwarming and heart-rending.
“When I speak, I often have girls coming up to me crying and saying, ‘I just lost my virginity.’ It breaks my heart,” she told OSV. “That’s why I’ve dedicated my life to being an advocate for women.”
Jim Graves writes from California. For more information, visit www.leahdarrow.com.
Pure Fashion (sidebar)
Leah Darrow has spoken at several events for Pure Fashion, a faith-based program for girls ages 14 to 18 that encourages them to dress and act in accordance with their dignity as children of God.
For more information, visit www.purefashion.com.