Yes, the pictures of Isabelle Caro are shocking, but since our visual culture encourages body hatred, it's time to respond to that in a visual medium.
Article by AnyBody member Susie Orbach
The Guardian September 27, 2007
I am surprised to read that colleagues working with girls and women with eating and body difficulties have responded negatively to the pictures of Isabelle Caro, the 27-year-old actress who weighs just 31 kilograms, displayed on billboards across Italy.
The startling and disturbing images are part of a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of going on hunger strike. She's been on one since she was 12. The campaign, shot by Oliviero Toscani who has shocked the world before with his provocative campaigns for Benetton, is supported by the fashion industry in Italy and has been mounted to coincide with Milan fashion week. The industry has become worried, and for good reason, that they are inadvertently promoting body hatred in girls and women.
My colleagues are concerned that the Toscani pictures will be aspirational. They are certainly correct that visual culture is reconstructing our relationship to the body. We can't but help look at ourselves from the outside to see whether our bodies sufficiently reflect an acceptable version of the 5,000 digitally enhanced images that are beamed at us per week. This is particularly the case for girls and young women and my colleagues worry that girls, perhaps those who are already hooked into the proAna sites will chase the elusive dream to fit in through acquiring a diminished body.
If visual culture can invoke a feeling that we need to be thin, perhaps the pictures of Isabelle Caro will become glamorised in such a way that they invite us to mimic her. It's possible but I doubt it. I think we are not yet inured to the horror they portray. We can still see them. It takes more than one or two images to change our visual landscape and I think they will become a rallying point for campaigners against the body hatred which eats into so many of our children's childhoods, adolescence and young adulthood.
We need to address the problem visually because it has in large part created visually. Yes, eating problems start in the home, sometimes unwittingly passed on by mums and siblings who have body anxieties of their own which in turn owe much to the ubiquity of art-directed visual culture. Yes, anorexia and the starvation that goes with it have to be addressed emotionally and sometimes medically, but if we fail to challenge worship of just one body type, we will miss an important dimension to transform the problem.
Bodies today are rarely where we live from. They become our production. Our personal statement about who we are. We work on them. We spend a fortune on them. We decorate, transform and manipulate them. Cosmetic surgery is worth $14bn this year, and expected to increase by a $1bn for next. The number of girls and women (and increasingly men) who suffer with severe eating and body difficulties, sometimes obvious like bulimia and obesity, sometimes hidden in bulimia or binge eating, is rising and reaching into earlier and earlier age groups.
We do need to campaign. And at the visual level - which is where this campaign is located. Shocking images are one way, pictures of women of different sizes, as in the Dove campaign, and the deconstructing of the beauty industry through videos are others. We need the best our art directors can do to democratise our visual field so that all of our beauty and variety is included. We need to face the public health emergency that is body hatred (in all its manifestations from obesity to anorexia) and transform the role of visual culture so that it becomes part of the solution and not the problem.