By Michelle Tauber
October 15, 2001 12:00 PM

Most women guard their vital statistics like closely held state secrets. Not Carré Otis. When asked, she calls up her agent Jeffrey Dash, who keeps track of such details. “What are my measurements, Jeffrey?” she says. “36 B/C, waist 30, hips 41…Are you sure? You sure I’m not bigger?”

Stop the presses! Did a top model—one who posed in last year’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s swimsuit issue—just ask whether she isn’t bigger? You bet—and there’s more candor where that came from. At almost 5’10” and 155 lbs., Otis is 30 lbs. heavier than she was one year ago. “I have come off a 17-year diet,” she says. “I’m a perfect size 12.”

So far Otis, 32, is drawing raves—and magazine covers, including Mode and Italian Elle—with her new shape. “Her beauty and experience are going to help people look at this side of the industry and take it seriously in a way they never have before,” says Allegra Doherty, a leading plus-size model. “She’s adding an element of prestige.”

A top catwalker since age 16, Otis—a practicing Buddhist—says that her new career move was sparked by her trip last year to Kathmandu, where she delivered medical supplies to orphanages. The trip, she says, “really put things into perspective for me.”

Along with her spiritual enlightenment came a physical one: Her metabolism had changed. She was no longer able to shed weight rapidly just before a photo shoot, and “it was hell even trying to keep myself in a size 8,” she says. “I was ready to quit.”

Instead, she decided to join the ranks of such top full-figured beauties as Doherty, Emme and Kate Dillon—and she did so without taking a pay cut. At $25,000 a day, “she’s making the same amount as when she was working as a size 4,” says Dash, adding, “There’s less competition at her current size.”

Of course, “this decision hasn’t been a license for me to eat ice cream,” Otis admits. An avid athlete, she runs, cycles and lifts weights six days a week. “It’s about health now,” she says.

That is a marked change from her former incarnation. The daughter of Morrow, 63, an attorney, and Carol, 59, a professional fund-raiser, Otis was raised in San Francisco along with her sister Chrissie, now 34 and a modeling agent, and her brother Jordan, 27, an assistant director. Her childhood, she says, was troubled by her parents’ shared alcohol abuse. By age 10, Otis began experimenting with drinking herself. “Her home life was chaotic,” says Carol, who, along with her husband, has been sober for nine years.

Things only got worse after Otis’s career took off in 1985. As a model living in Paris, she says, “I realized cocaine was the way to stay skinny.” By the time she landed her first magazine cover, Elle, in 1987, she was also hooked on heroin. Still, she flourished professionally, appearing in ads for Guess? and Calvin Klein and, in 1990, starring opposite Hollywood bad boy Mickey Rourke, then 34, in the steamy flop Wild Orchid.

The pair wed in 1992; the marriage was so combustible that it led to Rourke’s 1994 arrest for spousal abuse. (The charges were dropped after the couple reconciled; they split for good in 1998.) Otis blames their conflicts on equally explosive personalities as well as her own depression. “I began mixing everything—alcohol, antidepressants, uppers, downers, diet pills,” says Otis, who attempted suicide three times prior to 1994, when she kicked heroin at a detox program in Mexico (two years ago she gave up alcohol).

These days Otis, who is unattached and living with her four dogs in a Malibu beach house, says her major indulgence is chocolate. And as her reborn career takes off—she stars in an upcoming Lane Bryant campaign—she is embracing her new status as a body-image role model. “The average woman’s got curves, she’s not gigantic, she’s not skinny,” says Otis. “She’s me.”

Michelle Tauber

John Hannah in Los Angeles