Thursday, December 30, 2010
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.