Francesca spent an afternoon reading the new memoir by Crystal Renn, a former “straight” size model (that is, size 00) who decided to stop starving herself and is now the most successful plus-size (12) model in the world. Entitled Hungry, the book (co-authored with Marjorie Ingall) describes Renn’s relatively happy childhood; her descent into anorexia and exercise bulimia beginning at age 14 after a scout told her she could be a supermodel; and her rise to fame after re-gaining dozens of pounds.
The book is a quick read, and Francesca enjoyed the peek into the brutal world of modeling and the many illustrative pictures of Renn, which show how much more animated and photogenic she is now that she is healthy. The writing isn’t high literary art, and the (sometimes excessive) references to contemporary pop culture will make the book obsolete in a few years, but still … it is an interesting story, certainly worth an afternoon. Francesca also appreciates that many of the statistics and observations which support the HAES movement have been published in one place.
The important aspect of this book is the messages it conveys about weight and popular media. One good one comes through strongly: that people in the fashion world have a dramatically skewed view of beauty and thinness. Another valuable message is that eating disorders are not only not healthy but also NOT WORTH IT. I’m glad that a beautiful model is getting out there and saying that even a modeling career isn’t worth the hunger, and exhaustion, and inability to focus she suffered when she was eating nothing but steamed vegetables and gum, and exercising for 8 hours a day.
Renn’s argument is somewhat weakened by the fact that she did not, in fact, give up her modeling career. Francesca thinks that what Ms. Renn wants to communicate – and obviously means sincerely – is that the best way to live is to give your body what it needs and take care of yourself, and that good things will follow. Indeed it is fascinating to read how Renn’s career skyrocketed after she went plus-size.
That message would be stronger –albeit less dramatic – if it were coming from someone who had actually given up her modeling dream in order to be healthy, and had found success and happiness some other way. As it is, the book is saying “look, I gained back the weight and now I’m a supermodel ANYHOW!” without acknowledging that it wouldn’t happen that way for most people. As Renn explains in the book, most plus-size models are forever limited to “catalogue” work, as opposed to the more artsy and more prestigious “editorial” work in the fashion magazines.
It is terrific and inspiring that Ms. Renn has broken through the plus-size/editorial barrier, but Francesca wishes that somewhere in the book she’d said that going from size 00 to 12 – and becoming healthier and more emotionally stable in the process — would have been worth it even if no one ever wanted to take her picture again.