In the ’80s and early ’90s, Carré Otis was one of the hottest models around. She was regularly cast in shoots with the other supermodels of the day, and she dated a bunch of celebs, including Mickey Rourke (the pair were married for six years and divorced in 1998). But for all the glamour, there was also a dark side to Carré’s life. In her 2011 memoir, Beauty Disrupted [Randomly co-authored by notorious “male feminist” Hugo Schwyzer, P.S. — Amelia], she recounted how, when she was just 17, her manager and the boss of Elite models in Paris Gérald Marie raped her. Then there was drug abuse, an eating disorder, and an accidental shooting. All the while, Otis was starring in campaigns for brands like Guess and Calvin Klein.
Now 44 and married, with two kids, Otis is finally able to look back on those years and come clean. In a column in Australia’s Sydney Herald, Otis revisited some of the fan letters she received in the throes of her success. While many of the letters were from pervy guys jerking off to her photos, she says the ones that most upset her were the letters from young girls who wanted to know how they could grow up to be just like her. Otis recently revisited those letters and responded today as she would have liked to back then. One letter-writer asks, “I’m 10. What is your workout routine and what do you eat? I wish I had your body. What’s it like to look like that? I would die to look like you.” To which Otis responded:
“Whenever asked about my diet/workout, I would cite a healthy routine, the kind touted in women’s magazines. ‘Jazzercise three times a week and light weights,’ I’d say. The heavily guarded truth was that I exercised a minimum of two hours a day, seven days a week. On days when I wasn’t working, I did double duty, going to the gym twice in one day. I said I ate oatmeal for breakfast, chicken and veggies for lunch, and fish and salad for dinner, along with a healthy snack like yoghurt. But in reality, my big diet staple was four to six cups of black coffee per day, avoiding even a splash of skim milk since I was terrified of extra calories. And to stave off hunger, I went through a few packs of cigarettes daily. Cigarettes with coffee gave me an energy boost. And all energy boosts were welcome because my body was perpetually fatigued from little to no sleep, over-exercised muscles, starvation and the relentless stream of criticisms inside my own head. …
One morning, I was sent to the emergency room with heart palpitations and an irregular heartbeat — a culmination of 20 years of starvation. Turns out I’d created three holes in my heart and I needed an emergency ablation surgery. In your letter you said you’d “die to look like [me]“. Well that’s almost what I did. What did it feel like to look like that, you ask? It felt, quite literally, like heartbreak.”
She also debunks the so-called “glamorous lifestyle” of models, and highlights how so many models are basically nothing more than indentured servants to their agencies.
“Here’s the deal on my so-called ‘glamorous lifestyle,’” she writes. “I never owned a yacht. Or a house even. In fact, some months I couldn’t pay the rent on my apartment. I got some great contracts that paid a lot but I spent money frivolously. Then there’d be months of no work. In the earlier days, I’d often give my all on a shoot — 20 hours with no break — but wouldn’t see a dime. If the client didn’t like my performance then, oh well, my agent didn’t hold the client responsible. I was told to suck it up and take it as a learning lesson. Sometimes I wasn’t paid because the agency felt I owed them — debts from test shoots, portfolio expenses and hotel rooms.”
“With the exception of a few jobs, there was very little jet-setting,” she continued. “For much of my career I flew coach and when I arrived I was often greeted by, simply put, an asshole, who told me I was too fat, too bloated and too red-eyed to work that day. I mostly stayed in dank hotels with multiple model-roommates. I’d show up to set at dawn and was told to assume crazy positions. ‘Leap over that sand dune … higher! Now be a happy, sexy fawn!’ So leap like a fawn I did, even though I was really just a tired, homesick, hungry girl who wished she could go to the Eiffel Tower or enjoy a croissant at the cafe without calculating calories.”
It was what was expected of her. “I continued, for example, to endure sexual harassment without realizing it didn’t have to be a job requirement. While there are plenty of models who can say they had mostly wonderful experiences, who thrived both inside and outside the industry, I know that many are still contending with the same obstacles I did — trying to meet impossible standards of perfection and accepting abusive power dynamics as ‘just part of the job.’” This is why Otis is now devoted to helping other models through her role with the Model Alliance, an organization that works to protect girls in the industry. Having dealt with anorexia, she also serves as an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association and is working on a new book about sexual intimacy.
“Today, thankfully, my happiness has nothing to do with my weight or feedback from others,” she said. “And perfection of any kind is no longer the goal. The notion that perfection can be achieved is a lie we are told and a lie we tell ourselves. That’s the ugly truth. I wish I could’ve told those young fans what I’ve finally learnt to tell myself: reality — imperfection — is where the real beauty is.”