Thursday, December 30, 2010

Starving to Death in Designer Duds

Anorexia is perhaps the most bizarre of modern illnesses in a world where millions of people are starving. Isabelle Caro, a French actress and model whose emaciated image in a shocking Italian ad campaign helped rivet global attention on the problem of anorexia in the fashion world and beyond, has died at the age of 28.

In 2006, Ana Carolina Reston, a 21-year-old Brazilian model, also died from the eating disorder. She was 5'8" and weighed 88 pounds. Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani was inspired to produce a 2007 billboard campaign which featured a naked photo of Ms. Caro with vertebrae and facial bones protruding under the slogan "No Anorexia."

Her affliction began at age 13, and she weighed 59 pounds at 5'4" when the famous photo was taken. She wrote a book in 2008, "The Little Girl Who Didn't Want to Get Fat," served as a member of the jury on Top Model France, and worked as a film and television actress. She ended an online video with words of advice for aspiring models: "Believe in life." How sad that she was unable to take her own advice.

Some groups working with anorexics feared that the attention her ads garnered would encourage others with the disorder. Images of Caro appeared on so-called pro-ana, or pro-anorexia websites including one with her death notice and photo captioned, "die young, stay pretty."

The international fashion industry has been unsuccessful in attempts to address the health issues facing ultra-thin models. London Fashion Week organizers dropped plans in 2008 for international health certificates for models, while French industry representatives signed a government-backed charter pledging to encourage healthy body images by promoting "a diversity of body representations," but industry executives around the world refused to cooperate. A French bill that would have cracked down on websites advising anorexics how to starve was passed by Parliament's lower house but never considered in the Senate. I don't know of any such efforts in the US.

Needless to say, the effects of advertising campaigns featuring women who resemble Auschwitz survivors continue to be devastating to teenagers and young women worldwide, and their families. As long as this dangerous practice persists and emaciated women are considered the beauty ideal, many more will starve themselves to death, convinced that food and their own bodies are their enemies.


TaraDharma said...

It's a horrible and very complex disease. I was afflicted when I was 18 & 19 years old and luckily an astute physician figured it out and helped me start on the path to health. Mine resulted from watching marital strife with my parents -- I felt life spinning out of control and anorexia was something that made me feel in control. I consider myself very lucky to get early intervention. The fashion industry is complicit in this epidemic....they keep saying they're against it, but just see what they put out there...that says it all.

moondustwriter said...

I have a daughter thinks she's fat - need to show her the pics.

Saw your blog name and had to visit. My heart is in SF permanently (tho I'm not)

Happy 2011 to you

nick said...

Anorexia is a dreadful illness, fuelled every day by the absurdly unreal media images of "perfect" women. There's an undercurrent of cruelty which sustains the whole syndrome. In order to starve yourself so severely, you have to go beyond neglecting your body to actually being cruel to it. But this undertow of cruelty is never acknowledged and has become a "normal" way of treating your body.

the walking man said...

When (if) high end consumers come to a consciousness of this disease and refuse to go to shit like fashion week and runway shows then the designers may get the clue and set a lowest allowable weight limit.

I know that will not curb the disease but it will take the profit out of fashion design, and a woman with a poor body image in her head and maybe, just maybe, they will get the help needed to get that 50 pounds over is a touch to heavy and fifty pounds under is deadly.

TechnoBabe said...

So much emphasis is placed on what we look like on the outside. Not on good health or expanding our minds or striving for good relationships.
It is interesting that so much info on anorexia is about females. I know there are more females in treatment for this disease but I know of males who live with the disease too. My grandson for one. At 13 he resembled the skeleton in the photo on this post. His parents were beside themselves by that time going to various doctors and then it became an emergency situation and he was airlifted up to Stanford where his heart stopped and organs failed. It was a year until his body was functioning well and he is still in therapy five years later. He is still thin, too thin, but he is able to use his mind and golf and he now has a girlfriend. Yes, this disease is deadly. How sad that the pressures in this world are so deep and consuming that they encourage diseases like anorexia. Thank you for writing another wonderful post.

English Rider said...

I think the photo campaign is brave. Unfortunately, here in the U.S. there would be a stronger reaction to the bare "breasts" than to the illness.

Jo said...

I had to look at that picture to see if it was "doctored" or if it was a real person. Omigawd...!

Do you remember when Twiggy was popular, and hundreds of girls died, trying to look like her? We haven't learned anything, have we?

I don't understand it. Skinny is so unattractive...! Why does anyone want to look like that?

e said...

People with eating disorders often suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. No matter how "skinny" they become, they still see themselves as ugly or too fat, for example.

Our culture is complicit in this, from movies to fashion and the way people view women and girls, but eating disorders are also found amongst males.

As others have pointed out, much more needs to be done, including making treatment available.

Grandma's scrapbook said...

Bonne année 2011!

secret agent woman said...

I don't think things will change until people who have control over what is produced (movie producers, fashion houses, magazine editors) stop hiring people who are anorexic or plasticized. Obviously women this thin are sick and I get equally tired of people declaring that no thin women are beautiful, ALL real women have big breasts and hips. There is a wide range of natural shapes for women, none of which involve starvation or implanted lumps of plastic.

Anonymous said...

I heard about Ms. Caro's demise but had not seen this shocking photo. It is so sad that those around her were not able (?) to intervene for her own good.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you for sharing your story. I'm so very glad it had a happy ending.

I was never anorexic but didn't eat very much growing up because my parents were hypercritical of me and I had no appetite. I just wanted to disappear. If only parents realized that their children always take the brunt of their own miseries.


I truly hope your daughter does not have this illness. Dysmorphic body image can be an early sign, but hopefully she is just a young girl who isn't sure who she is yet.

I love your name! As a Cancerian and moon lover, it really resonates with me. Thank you for your visit.


You make a good point that it goes beyond neglect to actual cruelty. Dieting, over-exercising, cosmetic surgery, there are many ways to be cruel to ones own body. What is frightening is that so many people take pride in that cruelty - it has become a point of honor to withstand self-torture.


Fashion will always be profitable. I wish models were more natural looking, though. As long as they represent an unrealistic ideal, women will go to hurtful extremes to look like them.


We tend to think of anorexia as an affliction of young females, as it's far more rare in males. I'm very glad that your grandson finally got the help he needed and is beginning to heal. It must have been a terrifying ordeal for your entire family. Thank you for sharing this story.


I also think it was brave, and you're probably right about the reaction in the US. (Also, breasts in this instance do belong in the quote marks you provided. I have to avert my eyes from that poor girl's photo when I look at my blog because it's so disturbing that someone would choose to resemble a concentration camp survivor.)


I don't believe the pic is doctored. Twiggy was never that skinny, if memory serves, and when she became Lesley Hornby again, she gained weight and was prettier than ever.


Since parents are often in denial or absorbed in their own miseries, perhaps teachers could be trained to look for signs of such illness. Of course this wouldn't help those who become afflicted later in life, but there definitely need to be programs in place.


Happy New Year to you!


If only beauty standards acknowledged that there is indeed a wide range of normal body types, and that none is more "perfect" than another - it's just a matter of preference. I also deplore the widespread dependence on plastic surgery and wish there were more emphasis on self-acceptance.

It's wonderful to see you back!


It's very sad that no one helped her - I imagine they were too busy making money off her.

mischief said...

This ad campaign gives me the horrors in lots of ways. The photographer is the same guy who made those Benetton ads that caused so much uproar -- remember them? (The one I remember most was a photograph of a man dying of AIDS...)

Although I do appreciate the notion of raising public awareness of various social issues I still cannot quite figure out how this type of ad campaign works alongside it. The public service announcement seems so devalued by the clothing branding next to it. I wonder if this clothing company donates any of their profits to research solutions to the problems it is highlighting?

Anyway. I think I'm going to go eat something. A lot of something. Happy New Year Susan! xxx

heartinsanfrancisco said...


While the photographer's idea is clearly well-intentioned, I also wonder how successful such a campaign could be when it shares space with clothing brands. I very much doubt that manufacturers are contributing to public awareness because they would rather market impossible ideals to us.

How about some chocolate cake? One cake for you, and one for me. Happy New Year and bon appetit!

Jocelyn said...

Oh, my. I'd heard the news--somewhat jadedly, perhaps, having read on this tragic topic so much before--but that photo takes me back, away from jaded, to a place where it's one human loss at a time.

SY said...

great informative article... I know that a lot of motivation behind anorexia is looks but it's also a mental disorder. People who go to these types of extremes to accomplish what they want will just find something else to make a disorder.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes. If ever there were a time to be ones sister's keeper, this was it.


It's clearly a mental disorder in the nature of an addiction. And like most addictions, it is deadly. I think the problems are much deeper than trying to look "good" because perceptions are distorted. And if sufferers are forced to take in nourishment, the disease will find new ways to express itself, as you suggest.

Thank you for your visit!

Pam said...

It's very complex and not always about fashion.
Any form of criticism to a young person already burdened with (hidden)chronically low self-esteem, combined with the person's anger not encouraged or allowed to be expressed to a perpetrator or a system,(education, family dysfunction, fashion) turns inward as a form of private punishment and sad secret joy in starving the body, cruelly oppressing and denying needs as a form of control.
I think those who are touted as "perfect fashion models/student/sibling/daughter/son etc" examples and high achievers are particularly vulnerable.
No way would I revisit these annorexic areas of my youth again, other than to note that with my daughter I swung the other way so she did not suffer likewise, and am now paying the price of dealing with a very vocal young woman who tells me, in no uncertain terms, exactly what she thinks!! Heartinsanfrancisco's and TaraDhama's comments resonnated with me. Teenage years are so often difficult for those witnessing their parents angry misery- you really ache for a good bellylaugh with silly people but oftentimes feel trapped.
Have problems posting this - a bit too much like weeping in my Weeties but it may help others, and laughter is a BIG priority now.xx

Anonymous said...

That photo is so disturbing. I had read about her death. I get torn with this one and at a crasser level am inclined to think: 'Who the hell cares? You made your choices.' But at a more compassionate level I realize it is a serious mental issue. On the other hand, the evil fashion industry continues to be a disgrace at so many levels, and especially this one.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Adolescence is a very painful and difficult time for most people. I am small-boned and thin and felt inadequate compared to the Marilyn Monroe clones who were beauty ideals of the day; I used to scarf several bananas before going to the beach so I wouldn't have such a concave belly. (Be careful what you wish for.)


It's not just the fashion industry. Movies and magazine covers display impossibly beautiful women w/o disclaimers stating that they have had implants, injections, plastic surgery and lots of airbrushing "correction." I am especially amused by 18-year olds hawking "age defying" cosmetics when you know the "before" picture would look exactly like the "after," if there were one.

Maria said...

You know, this made me think about all the ways that I contribute to this line of reasoning. Just the other day, I was talking to my bf and I said, "I am so lucky that my Liv is naturally thin." And on another occasion, at work, we were all eating lunch together and someone said, "I would like to be anorexic for just a half a year. I could lose all this weight and what I need is will power!" We all laughed.

Thanks for the food for thought and I do not mean that as a pun.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Not eating , continually denying oneself anything fattening .... and , eventually , anything at all .... can be about control , too . A weird pride in not eating takes over till only by denial can you feel good about yourself .
So it's impossible to treat by simply "making" the patient eat and go against her defences . But luckily , many people come through and , with help , another way to feel good about themselves .

heartinsanfrancisco said...


The cultural bias is so insidious that even people who try to stay open-minded, compassionate and supportive of others can occasionally surprise ourselves.


I agree about the "weird pride" in denying oneself which is operative in this disease. It's like the afflicted measure their worth by how much they can do without. A lot of re-patterning must take place before meaningful change can occur.

Thank you for your visit!

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Anorexia frightens me because those who suffer from it seem to have lost sense of reality. Years ago, in my private practice, I worked with a 15-year-old girl suffering from anorexia. I decided then that I rather work with 5 people with an obesity eating disorder that one with anorexia.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

St. Nick,

There is definitely a lost sense of reality when a dangerously underweight person thinks she's fat. I'm not sure where one would even begin in counseling.

When I was a domestic violence counselor, a client of my shelter once asked me if I had ever been beaten by a man. I said I hadn't, and she replied, "But you're so sweet and beautiful. I can't believe no man ever loved you enough to beat you." As with your anorexic teen, I had to approach her from a new angle because all the road maps I had did not apply.

Eastcoastdweller said...

What is even more terrifying is that the Internet has facilitated groups of mentally-sick people who encourage, enable and promote anorexia as a good thing.

David said...

It is a horrible, horrible disease. I know of it personally, with a family member who continues to struggle.

Be they models or dancers or accountants or daughters, we need to remind all young women of their value, just the way they are. They are beautiful and shapely and lovely and talented and intelligent by being themselves, and love will come (first) with their acceptance of themselves.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes, it is indeed sick to encourage and abet what amounts to suicide in young people with their lives before them.


Our society is bizarre in many ways, I think. Unnatural beauty standards are one of my pet peeves because of the incredible damage they do to impressionable kids who struggle with self esteem.

I hope your family member gets the help she needs. Dancers, models, actresses and gymnasts are especially prone, but as you said, it occurs in many average families, too.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

That is nothing short of tragic.

How absolutely horrible. As always, you are able to effectively present and write about imperative issues and the horrible truths that are tied into them.
Thank you for bringing some more light to this one.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It is tragic when a young life is wasted like that. It's a very sad illness.

RJS said...

Unfortunately, I lost a few friends to this dreadful disease. It's sad, that even today, women compete with weight.