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Muse for a Day: Thoughts on the Good Parts of Modeling

September 2nd, 2013 by Carré Otis No comments »

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Carré Otis Flaunt 2013


A marriage, two daughters, one autobiography, two moves and seven years after my life changed gears, I had that itch again. As I’ve explored in my book and in various articles and blogs, the modeling industry left a lot to be desired. But some things about it were undeniably wonderful. And one of my favorite parts was the artistic collaboration with passionate and innovative photographers, makeup artists, hairdressers and stylists. It takes a team to pull off a memorable photo shoot.  As a confident woman, no longer an insecure girl, I was ready and eager to take part in this kind endeavor again.

And that’s when an extraordinary opportunity presented itself: working with brilliant photographer Tony Duran on the denim edition of Flaunt magazine.  I couldn’t have dreamt up a better scenario.

I flew to Los Angeles on the 14th of July, leaving my two young daughters and husband at home on our farm in Northern California. Since the birth of my eldest, I hadn’t left for an overnight more than a few times.

The trip was a quick turnaround but it allowed me to take a much needed mama-vacation and I was ecstatic to get to work my ass off from sun up ‘til sun down. I experienced all the things I had been missing, all the things I’d loved about the industry—working in partnership with a group of talented artists to create powerful, thoughtful, beautiful and sometimes provocative images.

As far as I’m concerned it was a match made in heaven! And I was so excited to be able to be the muse again for a day.

At 45, I’m enjoying my womanhood, embracing my age and my body, honoring my health, and finding balance in mind and spirit.  I’m at such a 180-degree different place than when I was a teen model starting out or when I was at the height of my career hiding inner turmoil while selling an illusion of strength and perfection. And from this place, this new empowered perspective, I have so much more to bring to the table.

I’m no fool. Saying “yes” to this photo shoot meant running the risk of public criticism. But I’m used to that. Seems like what I do, what I write, and what I pose for always brings its fair share of negative attention. I’ve noticed many female celebrities—my age and older— being called every mean name in the book when they publicly reemerge looking different than what they used to look like. The omnipresent cyberspace bullies always have a lot to say about these women—She looks older, smaller, bigger, too cougar-ish, not sexy enough, like she’s had work done, like she needs to have work done, etc.

While I’ve received great support for my writing and my activism, I’ve also experienced this kind of negative feedback. So I imagine I may get some kind of flack for this most recent photo shoot. And that’s fine by me. I’m all for freedom of speech and freedom of press. And I’m all for my own freedom to choose what kind of work suits me. As I see it, if there ever was a time for a model to create provocative images, it’s when she’s a healthy, centered adult. That’s when she’s in a position to make responsible choices. Our culture is obsessed with youth. Our media objectifies and degrades women and contributes to the premature sexualization of our young people. That’s why I’m much more comfortable with sexy, provocative images of grown women, not young ones. And, for the record, I have never had an issue with nudity. I find the human body in its many forms, colors, shapes and sizes something to be honored, glorified and revered.

I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best photographers—true visionaries— during the 25-year span of my career. My work with Mr. Duran has been another great highlight.

I hope you like the Flaunt photo spread. And if you don’t, that’s okay too.

Carré Tells All To Today Show Australia

August 26th, 2013 by Carré Otis No comments »

Carré lets Vogue in on the truth about airbrushing, starvation, yellow teeth and sexual abuse…

August 25th, 2013 by Carre Otis with Sarah Spinner - Psy.D. No comments »

THINK models are effortlessly perfect glamour magnets lapping up the good life?

US model Carre Otis letsVogue in on the truth about airbrushing, starvation, yellow teeth and sexual abuse…

When I was 18 and arriving on the modelling scene in the mid-80s, attention from the public felt sudden and surprising. After working so hard as a teenager in both Europe and the States, after so many rejections and failed “gosees”(castings), after the countless not-so-subtle suggestions from industry professionals that I just might not have “it”, I was shocked when others started following my career. When I visited my agents, they’d hand me a stack of letters and I’d look over my shoulder, wondering if it was intended for the actual famous models in the other room. “Carr.,” my agent said, her hands firmly planted on my shoulders, “You’re a celebrity now. Get used to it.” There were some kind letters, praising the art direction or aesthetics of a photo shoot. And there were some filthy ones in which men detailed what they’d like to do to my body and – equally upsetting – what they did to their own while staring at my image. Despite some of the more alarming aspects of the latter type, I was mostly flattered that by posing for a picture I had inspired absolute strangers to take time out and send me their thoughts.

But there was one type of letter that consistently left me uneasy: the type that made up about 80 per cent of my fan mail. It was the one from the young girl in the age range of 10 to 15, seeking my advice about how to become what I was only pretending to be.

They wanted my tips and my beauty “secrets”. But I wasn’t willing to reveal the real secrets: the destructive behaviours and inner torment. I was keeping those secrets not only from my earnest fans but from myself as well. So I’d just send them an autographed photo and hope that by avoiding answering the questions I could avoid facing my own dark reality.

I recently came across a box filled with some of these very letters. And while I can’t go back in time to answer those young girls, I hope to provide some insight by answering them now. Below are the answers I didn’t have the nerve to give then.

“Dear Carré,

I’m 10. What is your workout routine and what do you eat? I wish I had your body. What’s it like to look like that? I would die to look like you.”

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.

Carre Otis, covergirl. Pictures: Supplied

Carre Otis, covergirl. Pictures: Supplied Source: No Source

“Dear Carré,

I wanted to say that your hair is so shiny and full. How do you care for your hair? I would like your tips so my hair can look just like yours! (By the way, I’m 13.)”

It’s funny my hair looked so “shiny and full”. Because it was actually very dry and brittle from being teased and blown out every day at shoots where I’d pose for hours under blazing hot lights. Since I wasn’t eating enough I’d lose lots of my hair in my brush and in the shower. In fact, sometimes the hairstylists had to pin extra pieces of fake hair to my head or give me wigs just to compensate for what wasn’t on my head.

In terms of product, I used whatever was in the hotel bathroom. But if I ever got a contract for a shampoo, then I’d lie to everyone and tell them that the only shampoo I’d ever liked and used.

“Dear Carré,

I wish I could flirt with boys the way you flirt with the camera. I bet you could have any guy in the world. What does that feel like? I’m 15 and I would die to be that sexy so that boys would like me. Any tips?”

I just stared at the camera and pretended I was confident and happy. But right beneath the surface I was overwhelmed by opposite feelings: scared and very, very sad. I knew how to smoulder for the camera but it was all a defence, a performance covering up the shame and insecurity that stemmed from multiple incidents of sexual trauma and abuse. My boyfriend and I hadn’t had sex in months and when we did I faked an orgasm – faking sexual satisfaction just like I faked sexiness for the camera. I sure fooled him, and you.

“Dear Carré,

You are my inspiration. You look so cool in your pictures. How can I be cool like you?”

Cool. You can credit my frosty stare and the occasional leather jacket. My “cool” lifestyle had me hanging around people who liked to carry firearms and one of them accidentally shot me. It wasn’t very cool to be in the emergency room clinging to life. During the majority of my “cool” photo shoots I was worrying that my boyfriend was cheating on me while simultaneously planning what foods I could eliminate from my diet to lose another five pounds in order to a) keep my boyfriend around and b) book another job. “You look beautiful Carr.!” the photographer would yell with every click of the camera. “This is your moment!” But it never felt like my moment. It felt like everyone else’s. There I was, supposedly a successful model, but I didn’t know how to manage my professional identity, let alone my personal one. Just days after shooting what would one day be known as my most iconic ad, I ended up in hospital, a bullet having just missed my heart. That’s when I realised that being alive trumped being “cool” any day of the week.

“Dear Carré,

I want your wardrobe. Where do you shop and do you have any suggestions for how I can look better in my clothes?”

The clothes you saw me in either belonged to the magazines or the designers who made them. They were selected by stylists, not by me. (And those clothes could be painfully tight! They were usually pinned in the back so that they’d fit right and it didn’t matter that the pins dug into my skin. Just one of many unglamorous tricks of the trade.)

If you got a peek into my closet, you’d quickly realise I didn’t have a clue about fashion. I was a hippie chick who bought clothes from flea markets. To this day, I don’t even know how to pronounce “haute couture”, let alone shop for it.

Even if I had any desire to wear those clothes in real life, for the majority of my career I couldn’t have afforded them anyway. The only reason I might own any high-fashion outfit was if it had been given to me by a designer in exchange for my walking his/ her runway show. But clothing – no matter how fancy – didn’t pay the bills.

So, how can you look better in your clothes, you ask? By now you know I’m no expert but I can tell you what works for me today: comfortable fabrics that feel good on my skin and pretty colours that lift my mood. If an ad or photo spread inspires you, great. But be careful about comparing yourself to those models. Plenty of them are like me. They know nothing about the must-have seasonal trends. They are – like I was – paid to be a clothes-hanger.

Carre Otis in 2005.

Carre Otis in 2005. Source: Supplied

“Dear Carré,

Your skin is flawless! I’m 14 years old and I have so many pimples. I hate them! How can I get perfect skin like yours?”

My “flawless” skin was only flawless in pictures, thanks to a whole lot of air-brushing. If you saw my face in real life you’d have seen pimples, dry patches and rashes, all consequences of constant flying, dehydration, lack of nutrition, stress, cigarettes, heavy make-up and sleep deprivation.

So you have pimples? Welcome to the club. How can you get “perfect” skin like mine? Good question. Do you know any good air-brushers?

“Dear Carré,

What’s it like to live such a glamorous lifestyle? Do you have a yacht?”

Here’s the deal on my so-called “glamorous lifestyle”: I never owned a yacht. Or a house even. In fact, some months I couldn’t pay the rent on my apartment. I got some great contracts that paid a lot but I spent money frivolously. Then there’d be months of no work. In the earlier days, I’d often give my all on a shoot – 20 hours with no break – but wouldn’t see a dime. If the client didn’t like my performance then, oh well, my agent didn’t hold the client responsible. I was told to suck it up and take it as a learning lesson. Sometimes I wasn’t paid because the agency felt I owed them – debts from test shoots, portfolio expenses and hotel rooms.

With the exception of a few jobs, there was very little jetsetting. For much of my career I flew coach and when I arrived I was often greeted by, simply put, an asshole, who told me I was too fat, too bloated and too red-eyed to work that day. I mostly stayed in dank hotels with multiple model-roommates. I’d show up to set at dawn and was told to assume crazy positions. “Leap over that sand dune…higher! Now be a happy, sexy fawn!” So leap like a fawn I did, even though I was really just a tired, homesick, hungry girl who wished she could go to the Eiffel Tower or enjoy a croissant at the cafe without calculating calories.

Modelling felt like a constant exercise in shoving aside my real feelings. When I had my period and was moody and bloated, I had to strip down to nearly nothing and look sexy for the camera. When I learnt that my dog back home was hit by a car, I had to shove that grief down and pose like I was on cloud nine. There was no discussion of selfcare, honouring feelings or communicating needs. It was brutal. I can’t deny the fact that I had some extraordinary experiences in the industry. After I “made it” I could make more demands and draw more boundaries. But even then I was still part of a reckless and flawed system. I continued, for example, to endure sexual harassment without realising it didn’t have to be a job requirement. While there are plenty of models who can say they had mostly wonderful experiences, who thrived both inside and outside the industry, I know that many are still contending with the same obstacles I did – trying to meet impossible standards of perfection and accepting abusive power dynamics as “just part of the job”. I’ve proudly become involved in the Model Alliance, an organisation that takes abuse reports, aggressively challenges the code of silence, and continues the fight for a much-needed models’ union. I encourage people to view images of models through a realistic lens, to challenge those automatic assumptions about the internal world of a model based on her (heavily doctored) external appearance.

Today, thankfully, my happiness has nothing to do with my weight or feedback from others. And perfection of any kind is no longer the goal. The notion that perfection can be achieved is a lie we are told and a lie we tell ourselves. That’s the ugly truth. I wish I could’ve told those young fans what I’ve finally learnt to tell myself: reality – imperfection – is where the real beauty is.

Carré Otis published her memoir, Beauty Disrupted, in 2011. She is on the advisory board of the Model Alliance and is an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association. Otis is currently writing a book about positive body image and nutrition, in addition to co-authoring a book about women’s issues and sexual intimacy with writer and clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Spinner.

This story first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Vogue.

This story first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Vogue. Source: Supplied

Interview with Carré Otis in Vogue Italia

August 23rd, 2013 by Carré Otis No comments »

Beautiful interview in Vogue Italia while in Milan for Elena Mirò.

Sexual Trauma, Self-Esteem and Eating Disorders: Overlapping Obstacles and Keys to Recovery

August 23rd, 2013 by Carre Otis with Sarah Spinner - Psy.D. No comments »

It took many years before I was able to make the connection between my eating disorder and my history of sexual trauma. In therapy, I began to recognize that addressing unexamined and unresolved feelings about past sexual assaults as well as exploring general unresolved concerns about my sexuality and femininity—concerns that existed since I was a young girl—would be a crucial part of my healing process.

While it is easy to blame the modeling industry for my eating disorder, I’ve come to realize that the roots of my struggles with food and body started long before I was paid to pose for pictures or walk down a runway. When I was nearing puberty, I had many unanswered questions. I had no strong female role model telling me that becoming a woman was something to celebrate, and that my changing body was part of an important rite of passage. I felt betrayed by my body. I wanted to stay small. I didn’t want breasts or curves. I wanted to look like a boy and I was terrified of having a body that would get attention from boys or that would indicate I was growing up.

I was filled with shame about my body and fear about the mysteries of womanhood. Controlling food intake became a way of managing this overwhelming experience. I decided that if I ate less I could somehow postpone not only bodily changes but perhaps I could avoid some greater unknown. In this way, restricting food was, for me, about avoiding becoming a woman altogether.

Despite my attempts to become invisible, I wasn’t able to control my body’s natural growth. And eventually my fears were realized as boys and men began to take notice. I simply wasn’t prepared for the looks and the comments that felt so aggressive and intrusive. Even just one lingering glance from a man felt like a violation. I hadn’t been prepared for any of it. There had been no empowering and honest conversation about the attention my female body would receive, about what sex meant, about how I could assert personal boundaries and about how I could say “no.” I assumed that I had to be “sexy” and the messages I received from males, from peers and from media seemed to support this assumption. I was yearning to feel loved, and so I decided that being wanted by men was one way to receive the validation I was longing for.

In an attempt to control and manage all of this, eventually, my diet-mentality took over. And over the years, I struggled with various eating disorders. Unfortunately, I chose to work in an industry which seemed to celebrate my ever-shrinking body—even to equate my increasingly skinny body with “sex appeal”—and therefore my job actually supported my denial about the severity of my problem. Because my career success was in many ways dependent on an unhealthy obsession with my body, my image, and an exploitation of my sexuality, my personal experiences in the modeling industry only reinforced the deeper sense of fear and shame I had carried since I was a young girl.

Two decades later, in intensive therapy, I began to realize that two triggers for my disordered eating and my reliance on excessive exercise as a means of purging, were sex and sexuality. I also began to see how past trauma—profound violations of my body including molestation and rape— had led me to feel dissociated from my body and disconnected from my deep intuition about how to make healthy choices in all areas of life.  My disordered eating behaviors, even my disordered thoughts about food, exercise and my body, were a way of avoiding the pain associated with not only these serious assaults and boundary violations, but a hatred for my own femininity and sexuality as well. Rather than celebrating my feminine intuition and the depth of my emotions, rather than tuning into my body and honoring its needs, I was punishing and abusing my own body in a misguided attempt to cope.

I learned that recovery wasn’t simply about eating and exercising “normally.” It would require a deeper healing as well as a new relationship to my sexual self. Gradually, with the help of my therapist, I was able to create conscious behavior and tracking mechanisms such as journaling of events, identifying triggers, and verbalizing what I wanted and what I didn’t want in my friendships or romantic relationships. For many years I feared true intimacy and the thought of being authentically open and vulnerable with another had me heading toward the hills, once again on the verge of relapse. But with dedication and a great support network I was able to continually make recovery the priority. And this meant focusing on rebuilding a foundation that had never been rock solid to begin with. I had to find compassion for the young girl who believed that controlling her body would make her safer in the world, who believed that the sexual assaults may have somehow been her fault, who believed that her sexuality was something to use rather than celebrate. And as I began to internalize this compassion I began to honor my body in a profound new way. It was then that true recovery was possible.

Today I am free from eating disorders. It took a great deal of courage, dedication and a willingness to ask for help. I’ve made it my mission to educate not only my two daughters, but women in general about the importance of practicing compassion, love and respect for themselves and their bodies. While the road hasn’t been easy, I’m grateful to have transformed what once felt like an insurmountable obstacle into a bigger life purpose.

Originally published by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) in the June 2013 issue of Making Connections. For more information, visit www.NationalEatingDisorders.org.

 

The Barbie Question

May 10th, 2013 by Carré Otis No comments »

It was a typical hurried morning of making breakfast, preparing lunches and packing backpacks for my two young daughters. But once I finally got them in the car, my eldest started a conversation that I wasn’t quite prepared for. We were heading down our little dirt road, past the new lambs and neighborhood emus, when she asked me: “Mom, why can’t we have Barbie dolls?”

I took a deep breath, adjusted the rear view mirror to better monitor her expression and quieted myself for a moment. For a split second I didn’t feel up to the task. “Because” certainly wouldn’t be a suitable answer. But what would be? Her question was good—it was damn important in fact—and it deserved a clear and thoughtful answer. She is six years old and I wanted to be careful to impart my adult point of view in a way that both honored her curiosity and provided a meaningful lesson for her and her sister.

Earlier that week I had explained why I didn’t want them to watch the animated version of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch anymore. As protective as I’d been in censoring viewing material, this show had apparently slipped by me and there was one episode that sealed that deal. A few characters were discussing the need to lose weight so they could fit into a pair of jeans.

I was cleaning up the living room when I overheard this part, seriously hoping that somehow I’d misunderstood. But the young witch and her friends continued to discuss their weight loss goals. I couldn’t believe the show’s utter recklessness. My husband and I have tried our best to foster a home environment full of real-talk about having a healthy relationship to food and body size. As an outspoken advocate for responsible media and healthy body image-role models for women, I had to intervene.

Click.

I turned off the TV and my girls wailed in unison. “No! Don’t! We love this show!” They were devastated. Sitting down on the rug next to them, I explained my rationale and directed them towards some other shows that they could watch instead, ones with a more positive and appropriate message.

As we neared the bottom of our quiet street and headed out on the main road toward their school several days later, I reminded them about this incident, realizing that the Barbie-question was part of the same bigger picture. I knew I had to embrace this important teaching moment.

“We’ve talked about how precious your bodies and minds are, right?”

They nodded.

“Everything in front of you affects you somehow. Right?”

“Yeah,” said my eldest.

“Well, think about how Barbie looks…I mean, do you know any women or girls who look like her?”

They both thought about it for a few seconds.

“No Mom, I don’t,” answered Jade.

“Me neither,” said Kaya.

“Well, that’s just it girls. Barbie doesn’t look like anyone in real life. She’s an inaccurate representation of women. Take my body, and grandma’s and your aunt’s…”

They both went on to name other women they know and love—teachers and family friends. Young, old, black, white, petite and voluptuous.

“They don’t look like Barbie either,” said Jade.

They were starting to get the picture—that no one, at any age, looks even remotely like Barbie.

“Women come in all shapes and sizes,” I said.

“Yep,” said Kaya, in whole-hearted agreement.

“And we’re all awesome!”

“That’s true, Mom,” said Jade.

“What a boring life it would be, if we all looked like Barbie,” I said.

“Can we go swimming this weekend?” asked Kaya.

I took the change of subject as an indication that, for now, their curiosity was satisfied. For now, they understood what they could.

But it’s a conversation I know will continue. It’s a conversation that needs to continue, inside my home and out there in the world. As my girls grow older, they’ll have to deal with a variety of cultural messages, some which will be polar opposite from the ones they’re getting from Mom and Dad.

By the time we arrived at their little school set deep in the redwoods, I turned to look at my girls and made eye contact with both, just checking in. We exchanged smiles and then got out for hugs, kisses and goodbyes. They ran off to greet their friends and teachers and as I watched them leave, I took a moment to check in with myself.

I know my daughters will have their own experiences and make their own choices. So my hope is to give them a strong foundation—one that fuels them with compassionacceptance and respect for others and themselves.

Banning certain media and denying my girls some of the toys their friends have is meaningless without ongoing discussion about why. It’s a why I need to continue exploring within myself, with my girlfriends, with my husband and with my other male allies. Barbie’s very un-real representation of women is just one conspicuous symbol, iconic as it is—one of many glaring indications of our need to have more real-talk.

The “No Umbrella”: Honoring your Needs & Getting Them Met

May 5th, 2013 by Carré Otis No comments »

By Carré Otis with Sarah Spinner, Psy.D.

Just Saying “Yes”
I was a girl who, like many of us, was not empowered to speak up. I wasn’t encouraged to express my opinions, my wants or my needs. I was never told I could say no, even when no was clearly the appropriate answer. Instead, I was encouraged to use words like yes and other pleasing responses like “I’m happy to,” “Of course I will,” and “Let me help.”

I’ve come to understand that language impacts thought, and vice versa. Without owning the word “no,” and all the other language under what I like to think of as the “No Umbrella,” I was denying myself the conviction and power that comes with it. I hadn’t been taught to tune in to the wise part of myself, the intuitive part that always had the answers. No external guide and no inner compass—a dangerous combination.

Learning “No”
I became so confused and pissed off about my predicament, feeling trapped by a set of life circumstances I had essentially constructed with too many yes’s, that I ended up ignoring my best interests and saying “no” to myself. At age 12 I began experimenting with alcohol, becoming sexually active and taking diet pills. My destructive behavior created a distance between me and others—not a healthy boundary, but the only kind of boundary I knew how to create at the time.

I wanted to feel loved and taken care of. But I associated my yearning for this basic emotional security with a feeling that seemed overwhelmingly scary—vulnerability. The fact that I couldn’t articulate my needs or even acknowledge them in the first place, meant that I was profoundly resigned, having decided somewhere along the way that I didn’t deserve to lead a happy, healthy life.

Changing My “Yes”-Habits
It’s not easy to change habits. But with awareness and discipline, it is possible. In my mid-20s, with the help of a therapist, I was able to leave an abusive marriage. I gradually began to see how my magnetic pull toward the infliction of harm by another had to do with a kind of self-destruction I’d internalized long before I’d met my husband. Since I was just a child I had a non-stop inner monologue, a voice telling me I was “bad, useless and stupid.” It was a constant effort to be mindful of that voice, to notice when it got louder and when it got softer, when it was on full blast and when it was lurking around the corner, waiting to pounce.

Over time I learned that I could respond to external triggers in a healthy way, rather than letting that critical inner voice run the show. I could integrate new words to replace the negative ones. These replacement words became my friends: word remedies, positive affirmations, compassionate journaling. I was beginning to destroy the old script and let go of that self-sabotaging voice within.

After doing enough work to develop my wise and empowering inner voice, after internalizing a more positive view of myself, I was able to start communicating my needs to others. My inner voice now speaks well of me, thus allowing me to treat myself well too. And I can request that other people do the same. When I notice the critical voice rear its ugly head, I thank it for sharing rather than believe its lies.

Listening to Me and Talking to Them
I’ve learned that other people’s reactions to my expressing a need has nothing to do with me. The point is, I’m not shutting myself up anymore because “bad-useless-stupid” once told me my needs aren’t valid. I’m saying “No” to that voice and, in essence, I’m protecting myself under the “No Umbrella.” I’m saying “Yes” to myself.

Your Needs Need You
Life can be so much more than surviving or just getting by. Practice paying attention to your needs. Identify them. Verbalize them. Honor them. And ask others to help you get them met. Start by bringing awareness to your needs as they arise. They may be basic—hunger, thirst, the need to go to the bathroom. And they may be subtle—the need for a hug, acknowledgment, or time alone. Your needs are unique and they will vary day to day.

I’ve learned that if you have a traumatic history, it’s particularly important to practice tuning into your needs on a regular basis. You triggers can be both specific and general, some instantly transporting you back to a terribly painful memory and others eliciting a vague sense of something just not feeling right. Again, awareness is key. Tell your friends or your partner about these triggers when you’re ready to. Your well-being is priority number one and if you’re dismissing your needs then you may be reinforcing an old belief that somehow you deserved or caused the traumatic experience.

Saying “no” and protecting yourself with the “No Umbrella” means more than just negating something with a one-syllable word. It means recognizing your boundaries and honoring your needs.

Practice Prompts

  • Looking back, did anyone teach you about your right to say “no”?
  • What lessons did you learn about boundaries, either explicitly or through watching the adults in your life?
  • How comfortable are you with saying “no”? Are there certain areas in life where saying “no” is easier than others?
  • How have you looked for validation, safety and love throughout your life? Can you identify healthy and unhealthy ways you’ve done this?
  • Do you have any specific triggers related to past trauma? If so, what are they? How comfortable do you feel in tuning into these triggers and communicating them to others if necessary?
  • If you’re in a relationship, how comfortable do you feel communicating your needs to your partner?
  • If you’re single and looking, what needs will you have from a future partner?
  • If you’re single and not looking, how can you honor your needs now, for yourself?
  • In terms of communicating your needs to other people in your life, who do you have trouble doing this with? What makes it hard? Who do you find it easy to do this with? What makes it easy?
  • Playful Practice Exercise: Sometimes our dreams help us tune in to unacknowledged needs as well as our wise intuition. Before bed, take a moment to jot down some questions or concerns you’d like your dream life to give answers to. As you fall asleep, tune into your deep intuition and see what your dreams reveal the next morning.

Speaking for the Silent

December 3rd, 2012 by Carré Otis No comments »

carre-otis-knock-out-abuse

I was recently asked to be the honorary speaker at the November 1st, Knock Out Abuse 2012, an event in Washington DC that works to raise awareness and funds to put an end to domestic violence. It’s an extraordinary and remarkable organization and the gala brings people together from all over the world for an evening of entertainment, inspiration, sharing and significant fundraising.

While the invitation was quite an honor, as a hands on mother I felt the usual concern about how to extract myself from my family’s tight schedule and the ever-increasing needs of my two young daughters. My days are jam-packed with carpools, classroom assistance, tending to chickens, dogs and seven acres of olive trees! I delight in my family obligations, but they leave little time for breaks let alone quick trips across the country.

I was drawn to this event though, sensing it would provide me with an opportunity to make some meaningful connections with like-minded women so I knew I had to find a way to fit it in. My personal experience with domestic violence, as well as the various forms of abuse I endured within the modeling industry have inspired me to become a fighter for change. I’ve worked hard to find healing and overcome an abusive past. Now I find myself in a position where I can make difference for others so I’ve become passionately committed to doing what I can to ensure the safety, welfare and freedom of not only of my daughters but all our daughters.

Carre with KOA Founder Jill Sorensen, Gina Adams of FedEx Corp. and KOA Founder Cheryl Masri.

Today, from a post-election vantage point, I feel like I can take a breath knowing there is at least a four year reprieve on some of the immediate political threats facing women in the United States but I find myself still thinking about the countless women in other countries who are suffering horrific and unconscionable crimes of violence.

I find myself living with a conflicting sense of hope and fear, optimism and disbelief.  These women suffer in a world where technology enables and supports a web of communication that is unprecedented in human history. How can this technology be better used to weave a web of support to those suffering in silence? How can it be used to create a more powerful network of resources and give these people a voice? People with no protection, no rights and no hope for future change. What about them? Our sisters across the seas? Our daughters  who are victims of ‘honor killings’? Women we may never meet yet suffer emotional, physical and sexual abuse on a daily basis.

I do not yet know how to best provide this support. I only know that my willingness to stay aware, my desire to know about violence against women here and in other countries, is an important place to start.

knock out abuse Carre Otis Sana Ali

Carre with Sana Ali, Deputy Chief of Staff to the Ambassador at Embassy of Pakistan and Locke Lord’s Shannon Grewer.

After speaking to a room of 650 women at the Knock Out Abuse event, the uniting power of sharing our stories became even more clear to me. While women across the globe have many differences- language, culture, environment-our similarities are undeniable, and the impact of abuse and oppression affects us all. During my talk I mentioned these other women, namely the young girl Malala who was shot by the Taliban for requesting that her basic human right to an education be granted. She is a woman, a fighter, our sister. These courageous individuals do not easily disappear. Especially when we continue to share their stories, speak their names and honor their efforts in our communities.

When I wrote my book Beauty Disrupted: A Memoir, in order to tell my truth, I had to take some risks. I had to be willing to be unpopular. Exposing any subject that is unpleasant or controversial means risking judgement and making some people feel uncomfortable. But what the hell…I figured I was never popular for what I had to say in the first place. I’d rather take a risk and speak my truth with the goal of inspiring others and spreading awareness rather than stay silent and not rock the boat.

Speaking at Knock Out Abuse 2012 strengthened my resolve and my commitment because it reminded me of the inherent might and interconnectedness of all women. It helped me realize that I have the freedom to speak out, to have a voice, a say, a vote and for all the mothers, sisters, daughters out there I’m willing to take a risk. I willing to speak my mind because unlike Malala most of us don’t have to risk being shot for doing so.

Knock Out Abuse 2012

October 31st, 2012 by Carré Otis No comments »

Knock Out Abuse 2012
Thursday, November 1st!

On this special night, seven hundred and fifty of Washington D.C.’s most prominent women, from members of Congress to leaders in the corporate and philanthropic communities, will gather to KNOCK OUT ABUSE. Our one night a year event has raised over 6.5 million dollars to restore the dignity and respect to thousands of victims of domestic violence in the National Capital Area. The evening is a true celebration of the power of women to effect change for the most vulnerable women and children in our community.

New York Times- Room for Debate – Teenage Models Have Teenage Needs

October 12th, 2012 by Carré Otis No comments »

Room for Debate

While a new age requirement is a good step, even at 16, models are entering an adult world. Health and education should come first. Read Carre’s contribution at The New York Times Room for Debate