When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a model. I am over 5′ 9″ tall, so I knew I had the height. At the time, I was thin as a rail, with a metabolism that could burn up cheeseburgers, milk shakes and chocolate bars. But there was a wee bit of a problem with my nose, which is huge…we’re talking a lovely Germanic nose, the kind that makes my face memorable, but impossible to photograph easily. So, because of my height and thinness, I did one — count ’em, one — store modeling gig for Macy’s. I walked down a rickety runway in the juniors department wearing a white dress I hated. At the last second, the lady in charge of the teen fashion show handed me a bunch of daffodils to carry, which made me sneeze. I didn’t know how to hold them so I looked like the Queen of England carrying a scepter. I smiled, pivoted, caught my heel in the carpet on the walkway, and broke the tip off of it. So much for fashion shows.
But I have always been fascinated by the modeling industry. Living in New York City as I did, I was surrounded by the fashion district and loved to read Vogue before it turned into a wildly liberal, pro abortion rag. When it was all about fashion and beauty and style, it was my publication for sure. And I worked later on near the garment district. I’d go to the cheap, hidden jewelry stores along 7th Avenue and shop alongside models and their stylists. The models towered over me, skeletons with clothes hanging off their frames, and the stylists always looked like they were on the verge of a nervous breakdown as they scooped bracelets, earrings and hair jewelry into the trays so common at the Korean costume jewelry importers along 7th. The models would stand outside the warehouses where they went for fittings and gosees, smoking endless cigarettes, looking bored and nasty. Ah yes. Glamorous.
I’d heard of Carre Otis, but I wasn’t a huge fan of her when I was following my favorite models back in the 1980s. I knew vaguely she had something to do with actor Mickey Roarke, but he’s also on my list of ‘famous people I could care less about’ which is longer than the list of famous people I actually do care about. So I picked up Beauty Dis-rupted with no preconceptions about whether I’d love it as a fan of Otis or hate it because I was a fan of Otis.
I loved it. And became of fan of Carre Otis, but not because of her modeling. Despite it.
Beauty Dis-rupted is a memoir, and it has some great storytelling moments, and lacks in many areas. My one big beef with the book is that it glosses over some important years in Otis’ life. Her early life story is told in excruciating detail to set the stage for what is to come. We read with interest her typical childhood in San Francisco; her parents growing estrangement; her dad’s alcoholism; the discover of her dyslexia, which makes her feel even more like an outcast than ever. She gets into trouble after trouble until she is brutally assaulted in her parent’s bathroom one night when they are out and her older sister has high school friends over for a drinking party. The sexual assault that took place is horrific; you can’t read it and not have nightmares afterwards, wondering how in the world anyone, much less a 13 year old as Otis was when it happened, could remain silent and not tell her parents or the police and report it.
Otis then goes on to a trouble teenage life, finally dropping out of school. She drinks, she has sex, she parties wildly. She has inappropriate relationships with older men, sneaking out of the house to ‘date’ them. When she finally runs away from home, it’s a foregone conclusion. She ends up broke, dumpster diving for food, living in a commune for a while which seems emotionally healthy compared to what she has left.
When she begins modeling, the lifestyle is anything but glamorous. She is raped again by an agent. She is pimped out by an Italian agency who ‘rents’ models to Italian playboys near Lake Cuomo to decorate their parties. Drugs flow freely, anorexia and bulimia is rampant, and the entire industry is built upon using people like objects.
It is here that she finally gets her big break, meets and marries Mickey Roarke (who comes across as completely unstable and insane, abusive and pitiable at the same time), and discovers the joys of Tibetan Buddhism.
I won’t go into the rest of the memoir because it does get worse before it gets better. Suffice to say that until the end, I was hooked on the book, wondering what would happen. How would she leave Roarke, who was so controlling he had a body guard with her at all times and tapped her telephone to monitor her conversations? How would she get off drugs? Would she ever make up with her parents?
And here is where I felt the book had a big, gaping hole. The first half is told with exacting detail, so that we understand her motivations and feel for her. However, the latter half speeds up so much that entire years are glossed over, important years in which Otis did the hard work of healing from physical, sexual and emotional abuse, reconnected with her spirituality, and found reconciliation with her family.
For all its intrigue, for all the bad stuff is interesting, it is this — the healing — that is the crux of the story, and it is told so quickly and facilely that I ended up feeling dissatisfied with the book. While I cheered her happy ending, I also wanted to know more. What about Buddhism, other than a strong deja vu feeling, helped her? What was this spiritual practice that took her years to accomplish? How did Roarke finally let her go after all his insane controlling ways? When and how did she reconcile with her parents? And more….
I gave this book four stars on Goodreads because I love memoirs, and I appreciated the honesty with which Otis told her tale. She now speaks out against the horrific working conditions and abuse in the modeling industry, works with eating disorders groups, and seems to be thriving in her role as wife, mother, author and speaker. I wanted to give her a big high-five at the end of the book and a hug at the same time. If you can get past some of the graphic scenes in the novel (it’s not for the squeamish or anyone under age 13), and you like reading memoirs, I think this is a worthwhile read.