Middle school students learn mass media interferes with God’s mission


PROVIDENCE — About 1,250 people, including many local Catholic middle school students, were astonished to learn some facts about the modeling industry, which they described as “eye-opening.”

Leah Darrow, a former fashion model turned inspirational Catholic speaker, told them that 100 percent of women featured in magazines are photo edited, while 65 percent in men’s magazines are computer generated.

“They present us with this idea of perfection so we will see a flaw in us and look to them for the solution,” she said last week during presentations that were part of a youth pilgrimage to celebrate the 125 anniversary of the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.

Darrow, also a former contestant on the reality show America’s Next Top Model, informed them that many models have eating disorders and body image issues. They are often treated like objects, she said, recalling a time when a designer referred to them as “hangers.”

“We were just seen as bodies to put clothes on,” she said, noting that she was making $8,000 per job. “I thought that money would make me happy.”

But, Darrow said, there is no worldly desire that can match God’s love. During a photo shoot that forced her to question her morals, as well as her faith in God, she quit the industry. She immediately called her father, who drove 2,000 miles to pick her up in New York.

“I knew in my heart that I was called to do something greater,” Darrow said. “Sometimes we forget because we get so wrapped up in what the world wants for us.”

When her father arrived, he took her to church for confession. At first, she was scared and embarrassed, but quickly overcame those emotions.

“My father said, ‘I’m here to take you home. Church is home. Jesus is home,’” Darrow said. “That sacrament of reconciliation is so beautiful, especially at this time of Lent. I walked out of that confessional with peace, mercy, forgiveness and a new hope.”

Following her presentation, students said they were “inspired” by her courage. Kacie McGinity, 13, a seventh grader at St. Pius X in Westerly, thought it was “pretty cool” that Darrow walked away from modeling.

“It made me feel like I don’t need to fake anything to impress anybody; I just need to impress God,” said McGinity.

Eighth graders from Providence’s Blessed Sacrament School, including Evelyn Cardoza, 14, Teyana Santos, 13, and Marian Gonzales, 13, agreed. They believe Darrow further prepared them for the future.

“She gave us a head’s up on life,” Gonzales said.

Students at Immaculate Conception in Cranston feel the same. Jacob Brown, 14, Yash Mehta, 14, Daniel Kennedy, 14, and Isabella Pezzullo, 13, said Darrow’s words touched their hearts.

“For someone who has body image issues like I do, I could relate to what she was talking about,” said Pezzullo.

Kendra Beauchemin, 14, an eighth grader at Warwick’s St. Kevin School, said it changed her opinion of modeling. She now knows it’s nothing but an illusion.

“Everyone thinks models are so perfect, but obviously her life wasn’t so perfect,” said Beauchemin.

Her classmates, including Alexa Beer, 14, Hannah Packhem, 13, and Anna Beaulieu, 14, said Darrow motivated them to always make good decisions. Getting closer to Christ, they said, is a top priority.

“She made me think a lot about what you want to do with your life and how important it is to have God first,” said Beaulieu.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who also spoke at the youth pilgrimage event, hopes every student realizes the significance of keeping God at the forefront of their thoughts. After Darrow’s discussion, he led students in prayer and Adoration, encouraging them to thank Jesus for the gifts and blessings God has given them, as well as ask Christ for forgiveness. Last, but not least, he told them to give their worries to Jesus.

“He is present with you every day of your life,” Bishop Tobin said. “That’s the promise and the grace that he has given us….During this season of Lent, our goal is to grow in the image and likeness of Jesus, and to be more like him every day in our thoughts, words and deeds.”