Killer Fashion: An Industry in Denial

From In These Times:

Eating disorders are rampant, and models are dying.

By Libby Rodenbough
March 28, 2011

On Nov. 17, 2010, anorexia nervosa claimed the life of 28-year-old French model Isabelle Caro, who had spent the last years of her life publicizing the horrors of the disease. Her mother, devastated by grief and guilt, committed suicide several weeks later. In 2007, Caro had appeared in “No Anorexia,” an ad campaign by provocative fashion photographer Oliviero Toscani, shown above on a billboard in Rome. The images of her naked, grotesquely emaciated body shocked and revolted. The campaign, intended to disassociate unhealthy thinness with connotations of glamour, sparked controversy, in part because some pro-anorexia and -bulimia websites used its ads as “thinspiration” (collections of images or videos of slim to skeletal women used by those suffering from eating disorders for weight-loss motivation). Despite her commitment to heightening awareness of anorexia, Caro could not escape its demons.

Caro’s unsettling death recalled a string of fatalities in 2006 and 2007 of fashion models who suffered from eating disorders, which, while highly publicized at the time, had since largely faded from the public’s—and the fashion industry’s—memory.

On Aug. 2, 2006, moments after stepping off a catwalk in Montevideo, Uruguay, 22-year-old fashion model Luisel Ramos collapsed and died from heart failure believed to have been triggered by self-imposed starvation. Ramos’ father reported that she had been subsisting on a diet of lettuce and Diet Coke in anticipation of the show. On Nov. 15, 2006, 21-year-old Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston died in a São Paulo hospital from generalized infection. Her body had been rendered powerless to fight it by an extended battle with anorexia and bulimia. And on Feb. 13, 2007, Ramos’ sister, Eliana, also a model and only 18 years old, was found dead at her grandparents’ home, apparently having suffered a heart attack linked to malnutrition.

This rapid succession of casualties provided a wake-up call for the international fashion industry. One detail in particular made it impossible to ignore: All three women, even on the brink of death, were taking home paychecks as working models. The industry responded with regulations varying by country in substance and severity. But the effects of voluntary measures adopted in the United States are unknown, thanks in no small part to the continuing silence of industry leaders and insiders in New York City.

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