By NICKY CHAMP
“THINK models are effortlessly perfect glamour magnets lapping up the good life?”
Don’t answer that, it’s a rhetorical question posed by former model Carré Otis in the September issue of Vogue Australia.
Eating disorders, sexual trauma and abuse, airbrushing, emotional abuse, drug addiction: they are all part of the 44-year-old’s explosive tell-all about the modelling industry in the heady supermodel era of the late 80s and 90s.
In a time before the internet, young girls (some as young as 10) would send Otis fan mail asking her what her workout and diet secrets were because they were “dying to look like her.”
Instead of answering them truthfully, Otis would cite a healthy diet and exercise regime – the one often touted in women’s magazines – when in reality, she was starving herself to maintain “a body that nature simply did not intend for [her] to have.”
“The heavily guarded truth was that I exercised a minimum of two hours a day, seven days a week. On days when I wasn’t working, I did double duty, going to the gym twice in one day.”
“I said I ate oatmeal for breakfast, chicken and veggies for lunch, and fish and salad for dinner, along with a healthy snack like yoghurt.
“But in reality, my big diet staple was four to six cups of black coffee per day, avoiding even a splash of skim milk since I was terrified of extra calories. And to stave off hunger, I went through a few packs of cigarettes daily.”
Sadly, in an industry that values thinness over well-being, the validation she needed to continue a harmful existence came in the form of compliments and more modelling work.
She maintained an unhealthy and dangerous attitude towards food for more than two decades, and it ultimately landed her in hospital.
“One morning, I was sent to the emergency room with heart palpitations and an irregular heartbeat – a culmination of 20 years of starvation. Turns out I’d created three holes in my heart and I needed an emergency ablation surgery.”
She was quite literally dying to look good.
But you wouldn’t know it from the flawless skin, shiny hair and white teeth that epitomises much of Otis’ modelling portfolio – it was all lies thanks to airbrushing, make-up and magazine trickery.
Carre Otis in black with white spots swimsuit
“Since I wasn’t eating enough I’d lose lots of my hair in my brush and in the shower. In fact, sometimes the hairstylists had to pin extra pieces of fake hair to my head or give me wigs just to compensate for what wasn’t on my head.”
“My ‘flawless’ skin was only flawless in pictures. If you saw my face in real life you’d have seen pimples, dry patches and rashes, all consequences of constant flying, dehydration, lack of nutrition, stress, cigarettes, heavy make-up and sleep deprivation.”
Beneath the surface of her flawless appearance and sexy shots, Otis was covering up the “shame and insecurity that stemmed from multiple incidents of sexual trauma and abuse.” (Otis named her modelling agent, Gérald Marie, as her alleged rapist in her 2011 memoir, Beauty Disrupted.)
And what’s even more disturbing is, young models are still being taken advantage of twenty years later.
“While there are plenty of models who can say they had mostly wonderful experiences, who thrived both inside and outside the industry, I know that many are still contending with the same obstacles I did – trying to meet impossible standards of perfection and accepting abusive power dynamics as ‘just part of the job’.”
Otis is now involved in the Model Alliance, and organisation that didn’t exist when she was in the industry, and is an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association.
By speaking out she hopes to encourage people to view “heavily doctored” images of models in a realistic light and not make assumptions or comparisons based on an artificial construct.
“The notion that perfection can be achieved is a lie we are told and a lie we tell ourselves. That’s the ugly truth.”
If this has brought up any issues for you or you need help or support you can call the Butterfly’s National support line on 1800 334 673 (1800 ED HOPE) or chat to one of their free, secure, confidential, one-on-one web counsellors here.