Fashion model Carré Otis shared heartbreaking hypothetical responses to real fan letters. Like most public figures, when Otis came to fame in the mid-80s she received a ton of mail from fans (I’m sure today models and actresses receive more emails and tweets than letters). She recieved letters from all sorts of haters and admirers: letters fans of the aesthetics of her fashion spreads, from perverts who masturbated to her image, but most of her fan mail came from young girls aged “10 to 15, seeking [her] advice about how to become what I was only pretending to be. Those girls wanted the model’s “tips and [her] beauty secrets” but she was unwilling to expose “the destructive behaviors and inner torment” so she’d just respond with autographed pictures and hope the darkness would stay hidden––even from herself.
Otis recently happened upon a box of her old letters, and has finally penned honest answers that she “didn’t have the nerve to give then.” Her responses are painfully real. One question comes from a ten year old girl inquiring about Otis’ diet and exercise habits because she would “die to look like [her].” Otis responds so truthfully and frankly with astounding intimacy that it would be a disservice to paraphrase:
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.
I made sure nobody knew about my real routine, protecting it fiercely so that I could maintain a body that nature simply did not intend for me to have. When I got especially skinny I got lots of positive reinforcement: more compliments and more jobs. Due to the stimulants of nicotine and caffeine, and the gnawing hunger pains, I rarely slept. Even when I tried to lie down I was jacked up and restless, barely able to shut my eyes. So I took pills to sleep. What a gnarly existence. So many vicious cycles they’re impossible to trace. I slept about an hour a night. But sometimes I was so tired from partying, jet lag and an utter lack of nutrition, that I’d stay asleep for 15 hours straight. As you can see, insecurity and the endless desire to look perfect were the only consistent things in my life.
Models have no union representation, so neither breaks nor meals were common. But if someone ever did take my food order, I was too petrified to eat, imagining that even a salad would bloat me. “No, thanks,” I’d say, sipping my coffee. “I just ate.” Or I’d order something “sensible” and when it arrived I wouldn’t touch it. My teeth gradually yellowed from all the coffee, nicotine and worn enamel caused by bile (from stomach acidity due to all the starvation and even vomiting). But thanks to the brightening whitening power of airbrushing, in every shot my fake smile revealed sparkling teeth. Without my on-set manicures and pedicures, you’d have seen that, just like my teeth, my nails were breaking and yellow.
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.
I highly recommend reading all of Otis’ insightful responses to fan questions. She spills her guts about hair, skin, body image, glamor, clothes..the works. You can find them here.