Normally, I wouldn’t be all that interested in the life story of a former supermodel, but I find myself fascinated by Carré Otis. Otis was a major super model in the late 80’s/early 90’s who appeared in Calvin Klein ads and on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. I’d never heard of her until I stumbled across a brief article she’d written called “Ending the Myth” on Huffington Post this month. While I don’t condone some of the choices she’s made, as a mom and a Girls Inc. staffer, her opening sentence immediately caught my attention. She begins,
“Motherhood has brought me many joys and insights, but the new perspective it granted me on the role I had inadvertently played in young women’s lives for the two decades I spent in the modeling industry was downright sobering. Once it did occur to me; though, I knew I had to be part of the solution…I was essentially paid to perpetuate the myth that we are all, or should at least try to be, 17 and a size 2 forever.”
And what is she doing to dispel this myth? Well, most recently, she’s written a brutally honest memoir called “Beauty, Disrupted” that exposes the ugly side of the modeling industry and its harmful effects on young girls. She describes how she starved herself and abused drugs to stay thin and witnessed other models do the same. By telling her personal story, she’s speaking out against an industry (and a society) that is still harming young girls today by objectifying and sexualizing them at a very young age. Otis says,
“We can see that young models are still being ‘used’ in just the same way [as I was] today and that this fabricated sexuality sells as effectively as ever…Girls are being sexualized even earlier now than they were in my generation. In my mind this is reckless. And it is dangerous. Not only are we putting minors in inappropriate roles, but we are sending a confusing and dangerous message to our youth everywhere—to our sons as well as to our daughters.”
As I read more about Otis, I found out this isn’t the first time she’s rejected unhealthy and dangerous beauty ideals. In 2001, while on a charity mission trip to Nepal, she witnessed the poverty and need of the people around her and realized how superficial and stupid it was to starve herself to be thin. So, she stopped. She gained 30 lbs and reinvented herself as a “plus-sized” model at 155 lbs and 5’9”. She’s a size 12 and says she works hard to maintain a healthy weight by eating right and exercising, not starving herself. The fact that she is considered “plus-size” in the modeling world speaks volumes about the industry’s dysfunction.
So, as a fellow mom and woman, I say to Carré Otis: I accept your apology. It seems you’ve paid a pretty high price over the years—sexual abuse and dysfunction, drug addiction, anorexia, domestic violence, and years of therapy. Believe me, I know sometimes motherhood is what wakes us up. It puts things in sharp perspective and we feel a fierce need to protect our daughters from the world we’ve had a hand in creating for them. So, you and I are square. And, I’ll probably buy your book.
By Liz Standiford