Former top model discusses roles in reality TV
Leah Darrow said she had been called to live her life with purpose and asked students to consider whether they believed they were destined to greatness.
Darrow spoke to the Catholic Student Association, which hosted the event, and other students last night at the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus about her time as an America’s Next Top Model contestant and her religious conversion.
Darrow, currently studying for her master’s in theology at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colo. began by introducing her daughter Agnes Regina, a 15-week-old named for the birth name of Mother Teresa.
She said her past was full of stupid actions, because she did not understand the meaning of love. No one had ever told her to try to define love, but the word is used all the time, she said.
“I love these shoes, I love necklaces, I love Jesus, I love pizza with pineapple and pepperoni,” she said. “We use the word so much it kind of loses its meaning.”
An Oklahoma native, she moved away from home during high school. She decided she had to have a boyfriend to fit in and picked out a man two years older. At her homecoming party, she had a great time but was surprised when she was pressured for sex.
“I call this imitation love, counterfeit love,” she said. “It’s not real love — a love so beautiful that it demands sacrifice. And I chose imitation love.”
She said society was filled with this larger problem — it does not know what love was and can not control its actions. Even in her high school, she hated the people who stayed pure, because they had such control over their passions.
Pressure from places like magazines and advertisements pressured her into auditioning for America’s Next Top Model. She went to auditioned at the mall for Cycle 3 and got the part.
Reality TV was not real, she said. Viewers only watch 40 minutes of content from 7 to 10 days of material spliced into that time period.
“They will create conversations that never existed — moments that never happened in reality,” she said.
During the finale, she said she was watching with three other models and a conversation came on among them.
She said shooting was limited, because you could not leave the hotel. Producers took off all the doors, and the models had to fight to get a shower curtain.
The show had had little to do with actual fashion and modeling, she said, based on her experiences with modeling afterward. They try to offer people an unobtainable life.
“It’s like the Roman Colosseum, … we’re watching … their lives deteriorate,” she said. “We’re watching their lives fall apart.”
She said watching Jersey Shore was sad to her, since the young people on the show had their lives fall apart.
America’s Next Top Model treated her like a puppet, forcing her to do what they wanted her to do. Nevertheless, she continued to pursue modeling. Her first job was as a dog walker.
Darrow said her image eventually appeared in Times Square in New York City and on taxicabs, but she did not feel like she belonged. Even when she pointed out her picture to a stranger, he simply said to her, “That girl? She’s got problems.”
She was frightened to change, she said. A fashion shoot with an international magazine convinced her to change.
Everything in modeling is about finding the solution to a problem with the person’s physical appearance, she said. Magazines depict perfect-looking models that compel people to buy the products that make the model look so perfect.
“The problem is when we accept the distorted view of beauty the culture offers,” she said.
Veronica Carolfi, president of the CSA, said she had heard Darrow mentioned at a retreat and was inspired by her powerful message.
“When I met her she was very humble,” said Carolfi, a School of Arts and Sciences senior. “She brought her baby with her and it was so wonderful to see this beautiful mother taking care of her child.”
Christina Germak, vice president of the organization, said every year they try to bring in someone to speak to the entire student body.
Darrow had been a model in New York City for many years before she had an epiphany, Germak said, and decided theology, rather than modeling, was her true profession.
“She was able to discern that call with her heart, and that’s what we want Rutgers students to do,” she said. “Sometimes at Rutgers you feel like you’re just a number. We want to show them what they’re really seeking is God.”