As a top American model for years that spanned the 1980s, ’90s and much of the ’00s, Carré Otis was one of the radiant, raven-haired beauties that young women everywhere aspired to be. She graced the covers of magazines from Elle to Vogue, was the face of Guess and Calvin Klein and became a full-on sex symbol after making her acting debut in “Wild Orchid” in 1989.
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But it was all an illusion — the envy-inspiring parts, at least. That’s the heavy truth that Otis lays out in the September issue of Vogue Australia.
“There was one type of letter that consistently left me uneasy: the type that made up about 80 percent of my fan mail,” she wrote in the essay, reprinted on Tuesday in Australia’s Herald Sun. “It was the one from the young girl in the age range of 10 to 15, seeking my advice about how to become what I was only pretending to be. They wanted my tips and my beauty ‘secrets.’ But I wasn't willing to reveal the real secrets: the destructive behaviors and inner torment. I was keeping those secrets not only from my earnest fans but from myself as well.”
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From there she goes on to respond to a handful of those letters from adoring young fans. And while she laments that she “can’t go back in time to answer,” what she does is honest and powerful. “I hope to provide some insight by answering them now,” she writes. “Below are the answers I didn't have the nerve to give then.”
So what was the truth behind Otis’s stunning figure? Vomiting, starving and drugs, she writes. Behind her sexy, flirty happiness? It was all a performance, constructed to cover up the traumas of sexual abuse, including repeated rapes by an agent. Behind her flawless skin and lush hair? Airbrushing and hair extensions, to disguise what starvation, dehydration and lack of sleep wrought.
Otis is certainly not the first to share tales about the dark side of modeling. We had the disturbing film “Gia” way back in 1998. More recently, model Sara Ziff’s 2009 film “Picture Me” covered a slew of disturbing anecdotes about the profession. Former Vogue Australia editor Kirstie Clements received a flurry of media attention when she divulged anorexic-model tales in her memoir earlier this year. In June, Bria Murphy dished about how her colleagues have been known to eat cotton balls to feel full. And "it" girl Cara Delevingne was just the latest catwalk queen to remind everyone how easily models and drugs seem to mix, when an incriminating photo apparently led the H&M chain to distance itself from her.
But Otis has been one of the few models brave enough to come all the way clean. She first laid bare the tough truths of her life and career in her 2011 book “Beauty Disrupted: A Memoir,” in which she detailed her eating disorders, drug use, sexual traumas and abusive incidents with ex-husband Mickey Rourke. Eventually, she gained enough healthy weight to work as a plus-size model, and she’s been a spokesperson for National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.
In her latest piece, though, the mom of two daughters has gone directly and powerfully to the heart of the matter: models’ images and the danger that lurks beneath, and how susceptible young girls are to it all.
To the 10-year-old who wrote her, way back when, “What is your workout routine and what do you eat? I wish I had your body. What's it like to look like that? I would die to look like you,” Otis had a chilling answer:
“The heavily guarded truth was that I exercised a minimum of two hours a day, seven days a week… 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… My teeth gradually yellowed from all the coffee, nicotine and worn enamel caused by bile (from stomach acidity due to all the starvation and even vomiting)… 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. In your letter you said you'd ‘die to look like [me].’ Well that's almost what I did. What did it feel like to look like that, you ask? It felt, quite literally, like heartbreak.”
The piece is being widely praised on social media, with Twitter fans calling it “brave,” “thought provoking,” “a jaw-dropping account” and “powerful.” Wrote one supporter, “Thank you @CarreOtis for being one of the brave models to finally tell us the truth about modeling and what you put your body through.”
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