Model Crystal Renn’s book, Hungry, may have come out in 2010, but I just read it recently. Equal parts self-promotion, tell-all dishy memoir, and beginner’s meditation on the perils of weight obsession and the benefits of embracing health at every size, Renn’s memoir might not be the most eloquent or scholarly reflection on health and body issues, but it makes up for its minor drawbacks in personal honesty, good personal research, and entertainment value.
First, I should say: I find the publicized world of fashion to be equal parts artistically inspiring and cheaply entertaining. It combines everything I loved about doing college theater (artistry, extreme sensibilities, and high octane personality clashes) with everything I love about reality television (snarky gays, unrealistic personal standards, changing requirements for the hell of it, Tim Gunn). But I think it’s obvious that even with the high entertainment value the popular perception of fashion as an industry and as a lifestyle provides, most people today are aware that, as an industry, the fashion world almost unanimously promotes an ideal body image that for most people is unhealthy, unattainable, and unrealistic.
This awareness is part of what makes Crystal Renn such a breath of fresh air. Sure, at this point, I’m a little over the repetitive editorials of Renn, clad in couture, stuffing her face with barbecue chicken or pie or whatever. We get it. She’s a “fat” model. Except she’s not at at all. Renn’s weight fluctuates, but at the end of the day she’s just a beautiful woman who eats, does yoga, and makes a living having her picture taken. The fact that these attributes together make her an outlier in the world of modeling is a sad reflection on the world of modeling, not on the state of Renn’s thighs or eating habits.
In her memoir, Hungry, Renn explores her semi-tumultuous young life growing up in the South, her harmful entry into modeling as a teenager who starved herself down to painful thinness in order to achieve her contract, and her sudden awakening as a young woman to her failing health, her mediocre career, and, ultimately, her hunger – not just for food, but for life, success, and liberation. The central thesis – that by breaking free of the rigid, unoriginal expectations of starvation for the sake of beauty, and by embracing her body’s natural size in a healthful manner, her career suddenly skyrocketed – posits a fascinating position: that it’s not only the responsible thing for the fashion world to do to use models of all sizes, but that it’s also the business savvy one. Renn implies that her success doesn’t just come from being the one luscious size-12 in a room full of zeros, but from being a model that “average” women can relate to (and yes, she does acknowledge that “average” is merely a mathematical designation, not a goal or standard to impose upon the masses).
It’s an interesting theory, one she links in large part to the idea that, in times of economic downturn and national insecurity, people in general like to see standards of beauty fleshed out a bit. She cites studies that have noted the slightly larger size of Playboy Playmates and cover models during years of economic recession, suggesting that there’s something in the shared consciousness that links lean financial times to the positive valuation of beauty that looks, in short, well-fed. Personally, I don’t give a shit if it’s the economy or just a sense of boredom with the heroin chic look so popular a decade ago; I’m stoked that models of Crystal’s size (as well as icons like Beth Ditto) are starting to become more visible.
What I enjoy about Renn’s book isn’t that it’s revolutionary. (It’s not.) It’s that it’s a small step in the right direction, and that step is high profile, respected, potentially influential. It’s the kind of step that health at every size (as a movement) and size inclusivity (as a goal) need. To haters who complain that Renn’s message or experiences are somehow illegitimate or irrelevant because her weight has dropped or fluctuated, or because she’s not “that big,” I gotta ask where all the size negativity is coming from, and I gotta ask how many proponents of Health At Every Size haven’t had their weight fluctuate throughout the course of their life due to dietary changes, age, lifestyle differences, mood, amount of sex had, PMS, or whatever the hell else. Life changes your body, and it changes Renn’s too. The idea that because she is a model or a public figure she therefore should not have any changes in her weight (except maybe to gain it) is part of the toxic idea that public images (and the women’s bodies who comprise them) are supposed to be static and contingent on public opinion. Renn says screw that; I join her.
Ultimately, the book was entertaining, I could get on board with her message, and it wasn’t too hard to overlook some of the name-dropping, self-promotion, and personal indulgence. Give it a read; it’s a quick one.