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Isabelle Caro: What the Life and Death of an Anorexic Teaches Our Daughters

isabelle caro, isabelle caro photos

No Anorexia.

French model Isabelle Caro died November 17th at the age of 28.  Her death was announced yesterday by her longtime acting instructor, Daniele Dubreuil-Prevot.  Prevot told The AP that Caro died after returning to France from a job in Tokyo.  The exact cause of death is unknown, but it is believed that Caro finally succumbed to her battle with anorexia.

Caro made waves in the European fashion community in 2007 when she volunteered to pose for a billboard ad (pictured) titled “No Anorexia.”  At the time she weighed 59 pounds.  Caro had been anorexic since her modeling career began, when she was 13 years old.  In 2008, she published a memoir, “The Little Girl Who Didn’t Want to Get Fat,” which, in hindsight, may serve as a scathing response to the popular 2004 book by Mireille Guiliano, “French Women Don’t Get Fat.”

For most people, one glance at Caro’s emaciated frame is enough to make them realize that the dangers of anorexia are all too real.  But for some, the image of Caro – nothing but skin and bones – remains alluring.  The Associated Press reports that a pro-ana website “posted a notice about her death and a photo of her, large blue-green eyes peering over a child-size upper arm, with the caption, ‘die young, stay pretty.'”

I first discovered the world of pro-ana websites a few years ago, around the time of my daughter’s birth.  A friend casually mentioned the sites to me in conversation, then spent hours giving me a tour of the horrifying pages created by teenage girls praising the mythical goddess of skinny, “Ana.”  It sickens and saddens me to think that so many young girls are suffering with the mental illnesses associated with anorexia and bulimia – and moreover, that they’re suffering in silence, much like Caro did.

Caro appeared on Jessica Simpson’s VH1 program “The Price of Beauty” earlier this year. Watching Simpson, whose weight has fluctuated over the years, react to the pain evident on Caro’s face is very moving. Let’s hope that because of Caro’s willingness to share her story with the world, fewer girls will be lured by the life of Ana.

Being a chubby gal, it’s hard for me to imagine falling prey to anorexia.  So I thought I’d turn our attention for a moment to a show that premiered on MTV last night, “I Used to Be Fat.”  The first episode features an 18-year-old high school senior named Gabriella, who struggles with her weight – and her mother.  I’ve written a bunch here on Strollerderby about the role family dynamics play when it comes to a child’s obesity, so it’s no surprise to me that Gabriella’s mother, Arleen, sends mixed messages to Gabriella about her weight.  In the opening moments of the show, Arleen says, “Gabriella, she got the wrong genes.  She has the personality, she has the heart, she has the spirit, she has everything.  But Gabriella has been overweight for a long time.  It’s something that she’s struggling with.”

That sounds almost compassionate, but a few moments later, Arleen says, “I don’t want to hide the ice cream, I don’t want to hide the donuts.  I shouldn’t have to do that….  I want her to be happy, but thinner.”

I can’t help but have a visceral response to that sort of rhetoric, because it’s obvious that Gabriella’s mother is taunting her and punishing her at the same time.  How many mother-daughter relationships have you seen that are like that?  It’s no wonder that Gabriella can’t succeed.

And, ultimately, what is success?  These two examples prove – yet again – that when it comes to women’s bodies, we are expected to be thin, but not too thin.  It would be nice to believe that the emphasis on health the Obama administration is fostering will serve to de-emphasize the body image issues girls have faced for ages, but that remains to be seen.

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