Happy New Year, friends! While I planned on my first post of 2011 being lighthearted with some encouraging thoughts for the New Year (don't worry, those are coming soon), I felt like I needed to first address something that has been coming up the last few days in many conversations that I have had with friends and clients alike. French model Isabelle Caro died at age 28 after a long struggle with anorexia. She had been struggling with anorexia since her youth, the struggle spanning half of her short life. When she entered the world of modeling, she was already struggling with her eating disorder; however, the environmental pressures resulted in further triggering her into an extremely dangerous state which in 2005 ultimately led her into a coma. Doctors thought that she would not survive, but she came out of the coma, was discharged from the hospital and continued to model. She wanted people to see the devastating effects and impact that an eating disorder has on its sufferer, and as a result, she decided to pose nude for an Italian advertisement in 2007 in an attempt to de-glamorize the thin ideal. More recently, within the last few years, she had been on different television shows and news programs discussing her experience with anorexia. Her recent death is extremely upsetting- and this entire story has raised some really important questions for me.
First, in 2007, when Isabelle posed for this campaign, she reportedly said regarding her intentions and hopes for such a campaign.. "I've hidden myself and covered myself for too long. Now I want to show myself fearlessly, even though I know my body arouses repugnance. I want to recover because I love life and the riches of the universe. I want to show young people how dangerous this illness is. " I think what makes me so sad about this is that she wanted to recover, she wanted to live a full life, and yet she wasn't able to do it on her own. Anorexia is a mental illness, and it is extremely difficult for one to recover on her own. I guess I just wonder if her death could have been prevented. Why did the people around her continue to allow her to be the face of anorexia in the media, rather than helping her take the steps to health that she could not take on her own? I am not saying that her death is the fault of her acting coach, or booking agent, or doctor, or whomever, but when someone suffering from an eating disorder reaches a certain point (not just weight wise- but health wise), hospitalization/treatment is necessary for recovery. How is it that she was made famous by her eating disorder, and yet people stood by and let her continue in it? I'm angry that she was encouraged and supported to keep putting herself out there and it makes me wonder why the people closest to her did not stop her and lovingly get her the help that she needed. I know that the sufferer has to want to recover, and no one can force recovery, but it sounds like she did want to recover.. she just was not able to do it on her own, like so many others. I don't know if the people around Isabelle tried to get her into some kind of treatment, and I would have to imagine (or hope) that they tried at some point. But I think this whole story highlights both the nature of anorexia as a mental illness AND the importance of people receiving the appropriate care, treatment and help that they need-- and how sometimes that means that they NEED help from others in order to get there.
Secondly, the Italian fashion house that promoted Isabelle's 'no anorexia' campaign wanted to support Caro by using " the naked body to show everyone the reality of this illness, caused in most cases by the stereotypes imposed by the world of fashion. " I think that eating disorder education certainly needs to happen, and I respect the efforts of those involved to that end. What concerns me is that eating disorders are not caused by the fashion industry. Certainly the thin ideal, the unrealistic standard of beauty created by the media etc contributes, but if the fashion industry causes eating disorders, then why do we not all have them? It is because eating disorders are caused by many different factors, including significant genetic ones.
I guess all of this got me thinking again about helpful ways to educate people about eating disorders. How do we effectively portray the severity and danger of an eating disorder while also not plastering photos around that can be more triggering and harmful than good for people to see? When someone suffering from an eating disorder sees a deathly looking skeletal body and may not look the same, she may be tempted to think that she is not really suffering or struggling as badly, or that her health is not being impacted. And in some ways, images further stereotype what an eating disorder 'looks like.' One in four college aged women suffers from eating disorders, but that does not mean that one in four college aged women are walking around looking like skeletons... or that their eating disorders are any less of a threat to their health because of what they look like. I think we need to be careful about how we communicate about eating disorders. I don't know that I have any good global solutions at this point, but I think it's important and necessary to ask the questions.
In all of this, I am just sad that another life has been lost as a result of a devastating mental illness. I hope that her death is not in vain, and that she may serve as a reminder to all of us that anorexia (in addition to other eating disorders) is a real and dangerous illness that is capable of tragic outcomes when not treated.