Turning a blind eye

Model and actress Isabelle Caro, most famous for posing her emaciated body in a 2008 anti-anorexia billboard, died at age 28.

Her goal, says the Los Angeles Times obituary, was to show others the dangers and horrors of anorexia in order to prevent the illness.  A noble and honorable goal, to be sure--but Caro knew and lived these dangers and horrors of anorexia, day in and day out.  Still she could not shake her illness and instead died at age 28.

The billboard that flung Caro into the limelight was produced by fashion company Nolita, in an effort to raise awareness about anorexia in the fashion industry.  Aside from the fact that I'm not convinced of the relationship between anorexia and fashion, Nolita was happy to use Caro's wasted body in their ads.  They were happy to use the shock value and run with it.  Yes, the company likely meant well by it, but what was that phrase about the road to hell being paved with good intentions?

After the April 2008 billboard, Caro went on to be a guest judge on "Top Model France," to write a book and song lyrics, to appear in television and film.  All while deathly ill with anorexia.

When I heard of Caro's untimely death, all I could think was: these people were using this poor girl.  They knew she was sick.  It was obvious just by looking at her.  They knew she was dying from a lethal illness and yet the chose to look the other way.  Maybe they figured that as long as Caro thought she was fine, then she had to be fine.  She was "trying" to get better, but your heart, your liver, your immune system don't much give a damn about trying.

It was like what I used to tell people: I'm working on it.  Which is all well and good, but Caro's and my lack of progress should have made it damn clear to anyone not blind that no progress was actually being made.

Yeah, I'm angry.  Media outlets and corporations were all too happy to let Caro continue on her merry way and not actually address her illness.  I'm guessing some of them told her she should gain weight and eat some more.  Gee, you don't say.  Caro had probably never heard that advice before, right?  If they cared, they should have refused to cast her until she was healthy.  It's hard enough to give up an eating disorder even when it's robbing you of everything in your life.  But when you can have the life you want and the eating disorder? 

The immediate cause of her death wasn't disclosed.  But the media industry--the very ones Caro turned to in her efforts to warn others of the dangers of anorexia--did quite a bit to contribute to her death.  She very well might have died if she didn't become famous.  Yet the people who knew and worked with her had an opportunity to close down any path but wellness and recovery.  And they didn't.

That's what makes me the most angry and the most sad.  That so many people are willing to ignore such a blatant disorder and look the other way.

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flaweddesign said...

sad. i hadn't heard she had passed away.

Angela Elain Gambrel said...

Isabelle Caro was a victim twice — first she was struck with anorexia and couldn't find her way out of it, becoming deathly ill many times, and then she was exploited almost unmercifully by the media during the last years of her life.

These people didn't care about her. They cared about the shock value of an extremely emaciated anorexic to either sell a product (such as Nolita) or increase their ratings (such as Jessica Simpson's stupid ass show). I'm willing to bet not one person took her by the hand and said, Isabelle, let's get you into a treatment center; let's help you recover. Because if she recovered, the gravy train would have come to a screeching halt for a lot of people.

She was malnourished, for God's sake, and appeared to be easily manipulated. She never even had a chance.

hm said...

Wow- I feel sick. And suddenly, ruefully grateful for my kick-ass therapist and dietitian who are refusing to feel sorry for me and give in to my pathetic pleas of "I can't do this."

Janie said...

agreeeddd times 10000

this is so tragic. like a.. kick in the heart. fucking disease.

Emily said...

ED takes yet another victim. I can't understand why casualties like this doesn't draw the world's attention to the damage that ED is doing. Really, people, this idolization of thin that we have created is killing people, and it is going to continue until we wake up and choose something different to desire!!!!

Tia said...

this leaves me feeling numb... number than usual. like a reality check into how fragile life really is after all. Tia @ Dietcolagirl

Jenny said...

I read about this today on a Livejournal community & was struck by this comment:

It's sad for her family. I wonder if she was secretly pleased to have had "Worse Anorexic Ever!!!11" billing before she died.

I wonder if receiving so much attention for low weight and severity of symptoms (and, you know, LOW WEIGHT) does folks like her much good. I honestly think it would reinforce the disorder more than anything. Because then they'd think, you know, 'what am I, if not the thinnest/sickest?' I wonder the same thing for myself and I'm nowhere near as thin. I find myself being afraid to gain, because then I'll just be normal and ordinary and there'll be nothing 'special' that I'm good at anymore. I'm sure I'll get past that mindset, but imagine how much harder it would be for me to do if I were known worldwide for being sick and thin.

Cathy (UK) said...

I completely agree with everything you say in this post Carrie.. Isabelle Caro's story is tragic. She wanted to be a role model but she instead became a martyr.

That sounds as if I am being rather hard and unfeeling (which I don't mean to be), but I do know from experience that people always have a sort of love-hate relationship with their AN. They are also unable to appreciate how ill they truly are. I could see, visually, how thin I was when I was emaciated, but I couldn't perceive it (if that makes sense). It was as if my mind was detached from my body. Most of all I was terrified of my life changing in any way.

In her interviews Caro said that the cause of her AN was childhood difficulties and her relationship with her mother. Whether her perception was accurate or not, her choice to display her emaciated body in the context of fashion was rather out of context. But the poor woman was very, very ill.

What the media (etc.) should have done was to tell her that she could have the attention she seemed to wish for when she was recovered. She could be a role model of recovery; not of sickness and desperation. When someone is that sick with AN they need to be told that very clearly. And they need someone to take charge of them, their eating and their life, until their brain is sufficiently nourished for them to think clearly.

Katie said...

The second paragraph of Cathy's comment is pretty much what I was thinking too. It's such a complicated illness - some people who are extremely unwell manage to recover without being forced to, whereas others would die even after being coerced into treatment many times. I don't think it's possible to say that she didn't recover because the life she wanted was compatible with her illness - I can only refer to my own experience, but I imagine she must have been in a lot of pain, and the anorexia must have stolen a great many important things from her, like her health, ability to form fulfilling relationships, any hopes she had beyond maintaining a low weight, etc. Regardless of fame, that doesn't sound like a nice life to me. I would be more inclined to believe fear kept her from changing, but again I can only think of how I would feel in that situation.


Cathy (UK) said...

Having read my comment again, I would like to emphasise that:

1. There is not much research evidence to suggest that AN is caused by 'bad mothers'. My mother certainly didn't cause my anorexia. She is one of the kindest people I know, and was always very loving and caring towards me as a child.

2. It is difficult to know what was going through Isabelle Caro's mind when she agreed to display her emaciated body on a billboard. Perhaps she was simply desperate for help, but didn't know how to go about seeking it, or organsising her mind to accept weight gain. She said she wanted to recover, but the media certainly didn't help by making her into a celebrity while emaciated. That is positive reinforcement for remaining underweight. The poor woman was exploited, badly.

esqueci a ana (ex-ana) said...

I agree with your post. To me is the best text about Isabelle Caro. I will insert a link to it.
I will try to translate to Portuguese.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. What happened was so sad. I can only hope that this will serve as a warning for the future - however I'm beginning to worry that we say that far too often. How many warnings does it take??

JenP said...

You hit the nail on the head. I couldn't quite figure out how I was feeling yesterday when I read this. And that's exactly why. Because her illness was glorified, exaggerated for others' profits. Horribly sad all around

Anonymous said...

Once again our society was stupid enough to tell someone with an ED that they are basically nothing without it and the world wouldn't give a crap if she wasn't so fragile!
Very well written comment here carry!

Crimson Wife said...

I'm not convinced that she made more money remaining emaciated than she would have had she gotten herself to a healthier weight. There's a very limited market for a model looking the way she did. Most magazines, designers, and advertisers wouldn't hire someone with such an extreme look. Whereas, had she overcome her ED, she presumably would've found work much more easily. The fact that she wasn't able to overcome her ED despite the professional cost shows how sick she truly was...

Cammy said...

"Your heart, your liver, your immune system don't much give a damn about trying."

I'm totally saving that quote.

Anonymous said...

The people around Caro, in time to help her, won money with her illness image. We know she could be better,she tried, but she couldn't alone.If someone helped her, maybe now we could talk about a model who survived of anorexia, but unfornatelly we are talking about her death. Its sad, but people with conscience (like all in this site) show the world that anorexics can be saved-but the world has to help too.
-Im anorexic,suffering too much n nobody helps me. My messenger:

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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