Anorexic Model Isabelle Caro Dies: How do you raise awareness about anorexia? (VIDEO)

Back in the late 1980s when I was an undergraduate, eating disorders were just starting to get attention on college campuses. At least one friend took a leave of absence because of an eating disorder. I became active in my college’s Women Center, which sponsored support groups about students with concerns about eating disorders and body image. We thought we were ‘raising awareness’ and making a difference. 

Then I read about the death of the 28-year-old French model, Isabelle Caro, and I’m not feeling so sure.

Caro was said to become the ‘international face of anorexia’ when she allowed her severely underweight body to be photographed nude for an Italian advertising campaign for the fashion label Nolita in 2007. Caro was 5 feet, 4 inches, and weighed some 59 pounds. She had been anorexic since she was 13 years old.

The ads were displayed on billboards and newspapers as Fashion Week started in Milan. As the December 30th New York Times describes them:

Ms. Caro’s face was emaciated, her arms and legs mere sticks, her teeth seemingly too large for her mouth. In large letters, “No — Anorexia” ran across the top of the photograph.

The photo was taken by Oliviero Toscani, celebrated in the fashion industry for his Benetton campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s, which included such provocative images as a close-up of a man dying from AIDS and prisoners on death row.

The Nolita campaign came as the fashion industry was under a spotlight over anorexia, after a 21-year-old Brazilian model, Ana Carolina Reston, died from it in 2006. 

And it’s hard to say what kind of ‘awareness’ such ads—which were eventually banned by an Italian advertising watchdog agency, on the grounds that they exploited anorexia— raised. Some young women with an eating disorder might see the ads and conclude they had to look like Caro. From the Guardian:

Some groups working with anorexics warned that it did a disservice to those afflicted. Images of Caro appeared on pro-anorexia websites; yesterday, one posted a notice about her death and a photo of her, with the caption “die young, stay pretty”.

And, on Jezebel:
Sometimes we throw around the word “anorexic” without realizing what we’re really dealing with and talking about; Isabelle Caro made it painfully clear.

In the past years, I’ve noted the adjective ‘anorexic’ used in some very troubling ways . Anorexia is a serious, life-threatening psychiatric disorder and those who suffer from it, men as well as women, suffer indeed. More women have been affected by eating disorders in adulthood and even midlife, as noted in a 2008 Guardian article and one in the 2009 New York Times noted. Just because someone starts eating regularly again does not mean he or she is cured.

It’ll be 2011 tomorrow, twenty-one years since I graduated from college, and I wonder how much things have really changed for women?  What kind of awareness about anorexia and eating disorders do we really need?

Photo by by Janine.


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

What she did was a brave thing. Anorexia is a terrible psychological disease. That she did the billboard, that she tried to get therapy and eat, to save her life, is a brave act.

Anorexics, when they look in a mirror, and instead of seeing the reality, see "fat", is not a physical disease, per se, but a disease of the mind.

As an R.N., I took care of an anorexic in DE. She would come in 3 times a year, when her weight got so low, that the doc ordered her to enter the hospital. She was watched, so that she didn't vomit, or put her food down the toilet, but her favorite activity was walking the hall for hours, book in hand, working off the calories that she had consumed. She was mid-age, terrible teeth, wearing a fleece bathrobe, yet her "wing" bones showing through the thick material, like points. Very sad. And inexplicable to those of us, of normal weight. How she could still see herself as overweight! We didn't know as much then, and she needed more counseling, not heaping trays of food.

I am so sorry that Isabelle died from the ravages of this disease, since she was 13 years old. She worked very hard to overcome it, but it was too late. Very, very sad.

Irina Kazarian
Irina Kazarian7 years ago

In my opinion, our world is amazing because it is so diverse! There shouldn't be any standards like 90- 60-90 boosted on TV and other mass media, and then people will concentrate on more interesting and deserving consideration aspects of life. We can be fat or slim, tall or short - it's ok as long as we don't have any health problems related to our looks.

Jane L.
Jane L7 years ago

In watching the video, I loved how articulate she was about the subject matter and how rational she was about a disease that plagues her to such an extreme.

Andrew H.
Andrew H.7 years ago

It sure is a disease of the society. The percentage of men is low, but men should be more, and more aware of this disease, it would for sure help too.

Erica Bastow
Erica B7 years ago

Barbara, thank you so much for the kind words of are the epitome of what care2 is all about :) I will check out your book...I'm looking forward to reading it!

Lika, not all people who have eating disorders are unhappy people...not in all aspects of their lives! I am generally a happy person, even though I am in serious pain 24/7 and gained a ton from my medical conditions. There are many aspects of life that bring joy to people...even anorexics and bulimics, even people who are depressed. So I find it unfair that you would say you think we have no reason to be happy?

Barbara E.
Barbara E7 years ago

I am so sorry to hear of your medical condition. I hope that soon you will feel better and be able to get off the drugs. My own daughter had an episode of bulimia her senior year of high school and all through her second year of college. This prompted me to write a Young Adult novel about the whole problem of girls who feel too fat and others who need to stay looking perfect like the model. My novel is called If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor and it will be published in September by MuseItUp Publishing. In my book the main character's friend is both anorexic and bulimic depending on the circumstances. She manages to hide it from her family and her best friend and there is also some anger against her father for ignoring her. I address the affect on people close to her and I'm hoping to raise the level of awareness among young people with this story. You can go here to read more about it:

My heart goes out to you and I understand how horrible you feel. You have to accept yourself as you are and ignore the negative people who will judge you only on your immediate looks. You have to think of your own beauty inside and stay with the people who appreciate you for who you are and not what you look like.:)

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

It's obvious that people with eating disorders are not happy people. It's not so much how physically attractive, they're not emotionally healthy.

I'm overweight, but I'm generally a happy person, and I can live with that. If people think I'm too much, well, don't look. One of my best friends has always been thin, and she's also a happy person, and I love her like my own sister. We're both the same way about the fact that if you don't like the way we look, don't look at us.

PatriceD West
Patrice D7 years ago

I say that whether a man or woman, size 0 or who knows how large, should not be judged by their physical size, but by the size of their heart. The outer image is of no importance, it's the person within that we must recognize, see, respect and embrace for it's beauty and uniqueness! Just because a person's outer proportion doesn't fit the "perfect" norm, doesn't mean that they don't have much to offer to you, I, and the world! For one example, look at Stephen Hawking - a giant brain trapped inside a very limited human body. ALL people should be given a chance regardless of their outward appearance! One should never be made to feel "less than" because of what our individual perceptions allow us to see as their "looks". A person should only be judged by the achievements, or lack thereof, made in their lifetime, as if we even have that right...

Athena C.
Athena C7 years ago

So sad. This is truly a disease of the mind, body and spirit. We do have choices, but, I think that the media pushes these bodies which we as woman could never achieve. That is why they have air brushing and photoshop. I would love to see normal size models in advertisements instead of models who are underweight and unhealthy. Bless Isabelle. May she find her peace in a healthy body and soul.

Francine P.
Francine P7 years ago

Isabelle Caro is a brave young woman, and her story should be known and talked about in schools and everywhere. It is not just the story of anorexia, but the story of a psychiatric disorder. Her family did not see her problem, she ad to get away from them to get psychiatric help. This is so sad... about her photo, how can anyone find her body attractive? To me the words, '' Die young stay pretty'' are satyrical, some kind of black humor.

She said that she started cutting down on the amount of food when she was about 12 or 13 yearsa old, because she felt like a burden to her poor mother and wanted to help her by eating less. Isn't it sad that she was able to carry that idea so far as to become a walking skeleton?

How come no doctor or social services intervened?