A friend said to me recently: "Do you know about Carré Otis Sutton? She's doing amazing work." Then another friend. And another. OK, Universe, I am listening... I looked her up online and found that I recognized her iconic face from her career as a "supermodel." Then I read a powerful article featuring her story and current work raising awareness about eating disorders, sexual abuse, domestic violence, women's empowerment, and ethical standards in the modeling & entertainment industry. She exposes the dark cracks in the glamorous facade of the fashion world that so many young women dream about. She tells the truth about the toll on her body.
Carré ultimately pursued a path of healing, joy, and spiritual discipline with a fierce dedication, leading her to find true inner beauty and all that really matters most in life. And she put it all into a profound, intimate, and courageous memoir, which enchanted me from beginning to end. I love how Medicine-Spirit-Dharma is working through her to help heal our society's relationship with beauty.
I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask Carré some powerful questions, and I hope you enjoy her transmission as much as I did...
PLEASE SHARE as inspired!
You've written a powerful and very intimate memoir, Beauty Disrupted, about your personal journey from disempowerment to empowerment, trauma to healing, and silence to finding your voice. You openly share about surviving anorexia, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and exploitative work in the (often glamorized) modeling industry. The authenticity and vulnerability in your story was so striking. It clearly took great courage to reveal so much.
How did you come to receive the calling to write the memoir? And what kinds of difficulties or challenges did you encounter along the way?
The calling was loud and clear. It was actually unavoidable. There was a moment that all of the voices telling me I needed to SHARE were everywhere. Subtle and not so subtle. I began to tune in to the cultural norm of women, societal expectations... both within my industry and without. I began to see the pervasiveness of abuse and objectification that I had grown up with and become so accustomed to. There was this common thread of avoidance and sugar coating and minimizing predatory and abusive behavior. Having been deeply submerged in an industry for decades that does just this—while normalizing these dysfunctional behaviors, it was already well on my radar.
Becoming a mother… a mother to daughters, was a game changer. I awakened to a deep sense of responsibility. I understood quite clearly and literally that my mission was to be a voice, use my platform and be an advocate for change.
All of these pieces were a perfect storm to ornament me with the courage to step out and into the voice and message I maintain today. In the earlier part of my life, I subscribed to being a "victim" of the patriarchy that defines and dictates many women's stories. It was the belief system I had grown up in, without questioning its validity as it pertained to defining MY Story. This construct really shattered in its entirety when I stumbled across my ex-husband being interviewed by Barbara Walters. As he again recounted his version of our time together, it became crystal clear that it was time for my story to come forth.
I am so grateful for the spiritual foundation I had under my belt. The many years of practice and discipline. The steps I had taken to fortify my relationships with family and friends. From Tibetan Buddhism to the shamanic path, I had a team of angels to guide and protect me. But that didn’t make the lifting easy or light. There were many tests. Obstacles. Wrath. Scorn. I really saw every shade of the human response towards me being a woman with a voice. It was as if there was some silent unspoken contract I had signed when I came into this body that I would be the KEEPER of secrets and sorrows. And I really had to consciously rescind that. A well behaved woman never makes history. I can relate. I am not well behaved. And proud of it.
Image from Carre's TedX talk. LINK BELOW.
Would you say that telling our personal stories can be healing for the collective? How so?
Absolutely! I truly believe that as we step up and do our part and participate, whether its finding our voices, telling our stories, or healing ourselves through therapies, we contribute to healing the Global Archetype. We are part of a collective. Together we rise. Together we can also fall. Its really time to rise. Other women's stories have given me so much courage and inspiration. We are safer in numbers. I encourage women to share their stories. Its cathartic. Its empowering. It also can take the "charge" out of the wounds. One thing I am ever cautious about, however, is that I have been very clear that I am not my story. My evolution and place on this planet at this time has been informed by my experiences, but I am so much more than my story… I am not a victim, but a survivor. I am careful with what I identify with. Without the work I have done I could easily identify with the violence I have experienced, or the betrayals… and on and on. I chose to not be defined by these experiences but to be empowered and it does enable me to relate to so many on their own journeys.
Photo by Bill Curry featuring Carre with Robert Mirabal, Taos Pueblo flutist
Your story offers great perspective for women who many be suffering from emotional abuse and domestic violence, as we get to walk in your shoes over the course of many years and a lot of personal healing. This can be illuminating for those women who may recognize the same abusive patterns in their relationships & who may not see a way out when they are in the thick of it.
What advice would you offer to any women out there who realize that they may need to get away from an abusive relationship?
Ah…. I recall the day that I truly felt immobilized. Paralyzed by fear. I could not fathom or dare to imagine the path forward. There didn’t seem to be any way out of my situation, which really is a text book feeling when one is in an ongoing abusive violent situation/relationship. I look back and can see that there were angels that graced me. There were women that came and spoke with me. Not with an agenda or objective, but to share their own stories of struggle, abuse and then freedom. One such angel was Ally McGraw, the wonderful and talented model, actress, author, and yogini. She had been married to Steve McQueen, the beautiful and dangerous rebel actor. Their situation was so similar to me and my then husband. She took the time to visit with me when I was deep in my despair. I couldn’t imagine at that time that I could be free like she was: accomplished, strong, and solo. She represented a female archetype that I had yet to have modeled in my life. I was awe struck. Of course it wasn’t anything instant but she planted a seed of possibility for me. One that I hadn’t ever considered: what would my life look like if I were to stand on my own, in my power, in my glory and grace and confidence? What would life look like if I lived and operated from my heart? A whole, healed heart.
It takes a village. It takes a tribe. It takes sisters and aunts and mothers and grandmothers. I had to learn to reach out and take the hand that was extended to me. I had to learn to ask for help. These were basic principles foreign to me but truly the movement and freedom in my life has come by way of support from others.
In the beginning, in preparing and making a plan of exit from my abusive husband, I sought therapy. I had to focus on myself, my goals, and a cohesive plan of departure. It was a terrifying time but with the support from my "team," I was able to make my exit.
What kinds of spiritual practices or healing modalities were a part of your healing journey?
I relied heavily on yoga and my meditation practice. My connection to the Dharma and Buddhism played a big part in my healing. It was a time for me to slow down and really allow myself to notice, to feel everything that was coming up. Nature has always played a big part in my mental health and feeling heart centered. Long walks in the mountains and on the beaches of Southern California were true medicine for my soul.
How has your relationship with food and nourishment changed?
Food today is nourishment. Its fuel. When I was recovering, not recovered, I had a very fractured and frightened relationship with food as well with my body. Today I am grateful. I am turning 50. I take nourishment very seriously. From food for my body to the nourishment of my soul, my spirit. I live in balance and harmony with food and nourishment, and I try to model this with and for my daughters who are 10 and 11.
In your story, you speak openly about a very taboo subject: faking orgasms. Where do you feel that this phenomenon of faking arises from? How can we heal it? Why is it so important for women to be completely authentic in our sensual intimacy?
I believe and have experienced first hand that often our identity and sense of "self" is intertwined in our sexuality. Like a job: who are you beyond what you do? Our one reference point for "self" is this human body, and often times our identity is also wrapped up in it. Why? Because unless one is on a spiritual path, one doesn’t tend to dig deeper.
It’s a big question… Who am I? It can be an uncomfortable question.
For me, being the performer and faking my way as this wild completely aroused woman was a persona that conveniently kept me away from experiencing true intimacy. It was a creation by my own design, but also one that I believe was placed upon me through societal expectations. Lets face it, modeling is performance art. Sex sells. The more that I could build up that character, the more I was sought after.
The irony of it! It took me a long time to even ask myself… "What do I like? What do I dislike? What feels good?” It wasn’t until after a five year vow of celibacy and diving deep into my own healing that I was able to arrive at a place where I was ready to name what it was I wanted as well as ask for those conditions in a relationship. And that is now where I am… with my husband of 13 years and 2 daughters.
For me, the "faking orgasm" was also wrapped up in my conditioning to serve others and to perform. There was a mistaken view that another's pleasure and arousal was more important than my own. There was also a big disconnect for me when in a situation that I could potentially feel vulnerable. There was fear in feeling vulnerable. I hadn’t yet tasted the sensuality of it. The magic of it. The potency of being in that open place.
Granted, certain conditions need to be in place to feel safe in our vulnerability. Like a safe lover, a safe physical place, and trust. These were not qualities I had previously asked for nor cultivated in relationship.
I truly believe we magnetize exactly where we are at. If we are in the wounded archetype, thats what plays out. When we are in the sacred feminine, empowered in our divinity, this too is what we magnetize.
You are a mother of two girls now. How do you help them to have the healthy boundaries that you didn't have as a young person?
Its amazing to me that I spent the majority of my life, all the way through my mid thirties, just learning how to say NO. I had never been empowered to use that word. I didn’t receive that initiation in my early years. Had I known that I could say no, defend myself, question, tap into my intuition to navigate which road to take, life would have been very different. Just simple body awareness, that my body is mine, was never instilled in me. My body was for others. From childhood through my career as a model. I was very disconnected and disempowered.
With my daughters I have had such an amazing opportunity to empower them with all that was not uploaded to me. They are aware that their bodies are theirs. If something doesn’t feel right, they get to speak up. I actually remind them that they will be their own most fierce protectors, but they must exercise that muscle. Because it is a muscle that gets stronger the more we use it.
In my family, we speak about food being fuel. We never speak about "diets" or shame other humans shapes or sizes or ethnicities. I actually make it a point to celebrate diversity in our household. We speak about different cultures whose values go beyond a Western aesthetic and celebrate aspects of strength, courage, and wisdom. I think we own every Strong and Courageous women's story book that there is to own. My daughters have grown up with conversations about the sacred feminine. They have grown up around Tibetan Buddhism and the strong women and mentors and surrogate mothers that I have had in my life. They have been part of sacred ritual around full and new moons as well as ways of our indigenous brothers and sisters. I am extremely grateful to have such a strong spiritual family in our lives. And, of course, these young women will find their own rhythm and ways. But it has felt truly important to have had them supported in the magical fabric that is our family life.
How as a society can we help young women have a healthy body image?
I believe that we do need to address what has become the norm within media. The massive subversive messaging that we all receive from TV, movies, commercials, video games, internet, music… it's impactful. An impossible, inhuman standard has been perpetuated within our culture, and quite frankly, it's reckless. Its negligent. Its abusive. It desensitizes us, as is the goal I believe. Coming from the entertainment Industry, I see the premature sexualization of our youth, the normalizing through advertisements of a rape culture, a violent culture. If you can consider that our average young male is receiving their first sexual encounter via internet exposure, porn, or video games—no wonder our statistics of rape has skyrocketed. Look at those images. Look at what messages are being perpetuated.
The change will take a big force, but there is headway after the #MeToo movement has unfurled. I am working with Model Alliance and change is under way from legislation to protect entertainment industry workers from sexual harassment. Programs like RESPECT will hold industry accountable and require healthier standards for our workforce.
But as it boils down, the discussion we can have amongst ourselves is so important. Part of empowering our young women and men is to demystify the images that they receive from media. I have a program where I walk through what actually takes place to create images in magazines, from airbrushing, lighting, photoshop, makeup, hair, clothes… etc. Essentially these images are extremely doctored. I also believe in the power of discussion. Intention. Celebrating diversity. Noticing when covers of magazines just pick apart the women and men on their covers. Also noticing how as women we are engaging in this dialogue as well. When are we criticizing and judging? From bodies to clothes to color? We all do it. How can we bring mindfulness into our conversations and consciously celebrate diversity and humanity? It feels so much better to do so.
What kinds of activist work are you currently involved in these days?
My work with Model Alliance. Recently I flew to State Capital Sacramento to testify before the labor commission to create stronger laws that would protect models from sexual harassment and sexual assault. I continue to educate and advocate for reform in our industry to safeguard its workers. Its appalling to me that the one industry (modeling) that employs our most vulnerable sector (youth and young adults) does not yet have laws in place to prevent sexual assault and abuse in the workplace. So far these crimes are not and have not been punishable under the law and many cases go unreported. I also am an Ambassador for the National Eating Disorder Institute and Project Heals.
What are your next creative projects?
I am in the process of recruiting a team to help me share my story through a documentary film. I had been on the fence as to whether the next project is a book, however after some thought, I realized that the medium of film will be the best.
The Blue Lotus Foundation will be my focus over the next year, an organization which supports eating disorder prevention through educational workshops and presentations, as well as getting my business moving forward with its projects.
Photo by Bill Curry
Have shamanic plant medicines and ceremonies been a part of your personal healing & development? How so?
I have been a practicing Tibetan Buddhist for thirty years. My spiritual path has been my guide and savior. My connection to my teachers, the discipline from the practices I have been so blessed to receive, have shaped who I am today. Yet my path has evolved over the last decade. I have been initiated into several shamanic lineages where sacred plant medicine is part of the path. My direct work with these teachers has been a game changer, catapulting my healing and supporting even bigger growth on every level. Where I stand today, the view I have, and the freedom I have, has come through being graced with these teachings. I continue to dive deeper. Our work in these bodies will never be "done." At least mine. I am here to learn. And support others on their path of exploration.
WATCH CARRE'S TEDX TALK