In Memorium: Fatal Beauty

After being the image - and a voice - for a campaign against anorexia, Isabelle Caro died Nov. 17, at the age of 28

A billboard depicting actress and model Isabelle Caro for a campaign against anorexia

After the death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston (21) in 2009, Oliviero Toscani ran a billboard campaign to dramatize the horrors of the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, which he hoped would prompt the fashion industry to discontinue its use of emaciated models in their ad campaigns and on their runways.

He chose the then 25-year-old French model/actress Isabelle Caro. Under the headline “No Anorexia,” images ran in international newspapers and on Italian billboards showing the emaciated Caro naked, her vertebrae, shoulders and cheekbones protruding through her. Having suffered from this psychological disorder since she was 13, Caro had agreed to be Toscani’s model for the campaign, to make others aware of the dangers.

Caro spoke openly about her struggle with anorexia nervosa, an eating and psychological disorder, which she says developed largely due to her mother’s psychosis. “My mother’s big phobia was that I would grow,” she said in an interview with CBS news last year to promote her 2008 memoir The Little Girl Who Didn’t Want to Get Fat. The girl was kept indoors and barely fed because her depressed mother had heard that “fresh air makes a child grow” Caro explained in the interview. “She wanted me to be a child forever.”

Dr. Deborah Franko, a professor in the Department of Counseling and Applied Educational Psychology at the Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University in Boston has tracked the effects of the psychosis, saying that anorexia has “the highest mortality rate of all psychological disorders, as well as having the most deadly consequences.”

Caro died on Nov. 17 at the age of 28 in Paris, the capital of the European fashion world, from what was reported as “a severe respiratory disorder.”  She was admitted to the hospital after returning from a job in Tokyo. “She was hospitalized for 15 days with acute respiratory disease,” singer Vincent Bigler, told the press, “but I know the real cause of her death.” The news of the model’s death was not released to the public until late December, for reasons that still remain unknown.

Soon after the campaign was launched, Caro was chosen as a judge for France’s Next Top Model, where she was presented as an arbiter for beauty. “Some groups working with anorexics warned that it did a disservice to those afflicted with the disorder,” reporting for KTLA News in Los Angelos.

“We should have been trying to get her into counseling, not standing by her in silence as she just carried on as before,” commented a former model in December. “We watched as she struggled, still modeling, still being chosen and accepted in the fashion industry.”

Doctors point out that anorexia nervosa is a life-threatening psychological illness that goes beyond out-of-control dieting.  It is about control, attention, love, self-hate, perfectionism, and feelings of worthlessness, and shame. “The end result is starvation,” says Franko, “that has many physical and psychological negative effects that span all systems of the mind and body.” Anorexia is addictive and becomes a way of life, and often it is very hard for someone suffering from this disorder to see the consequences of what he/she is doing. More often than not his/her cognitive capacity, social relationships, and psychosocial functioning are impaired because the brain simply does not have enough energy/nutrients to function.

“Girls suffering from anorexia nervosa do not see themselves as being too thin,” says the former model, “in fact they think the opposite – no matter how many bones are showing or how many people gasp in horror when they walk by.” What is worse, they thrive off of any attention their bodies get, whether positive or negative. Thus their friends and family often play into the hands of the disease, and in the case of Caro, the world played into it.

So, the question becomes: How do you beat a disease that seems to have its victims cornered, no matter what anyone tries to do?

“What do we say after we find out, one month after her actual death, that our “Voice Against Anorexia” has died from exactly that – coming back from a job in exactly that industry which she was campaigning against??” asks the former model. “How many more will die before the notion of “beauty” is re-evaluated?”

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