Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Crystal Renn Crystal Renn (2008), age 21, 11st 8lb (162 lbs.)

Crystal Renn

Crystal Renn (2002), age 15, 95 to 105 lbs, at the height of her eating disorder

(Photos from the author's personal collection)

Crystal Renn, Hungry

Introduction from Hungry...

"This is a story about two pictures.

Gisele Bundchen, Vogue 2000
Gisele Bundchen, 2000 (Vogue)

"The first is a photograph of the supermodel Gisele. Taken by the photographer Steven Meisel, it appeared in Vogue in 2000. Gisele is in a clingy white gown, posing in a studio against a seamless gray backdrop. Her skin is golden and gleaming. Her hair is windblown, as if she's been surprised by a breeze from an open window just out of view. Her hands, her eyes, the curve of her back -- everything is graceful and expressive. She's mesmerizing.

I was fourteen years old when I saw that picture. It was the first time I'd ever leafed through a copy of Vogue. I'd never cared about any fashion magazine; I'd looked at that one only because a man I'll call The Scout had handed me a copy. He was working for a major modeling agency -- let's just call it The Agency -- in New York. His job was to troll the back roads of America, visiting junior high schools and suburban malls, in a ceaseless quest for the next top model.

I had never met anyone like The Scout before. He was urbane and kind, smooth-talking yet sincere. I was dazzled by his shirt. Tailored to perfection, it was probably more expensive than my entire wardrobe. When he opened Vogue to Gisele's picture, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was planting a fantasy. In the few seconds it took me to absorb all of Gisele's beauty and allure, I'd constructed a new idea of female perfection. It was Gisele.

That's when the Scout said, "This could be you."

And even though I was only fourteen and weighed sixty pounds more than Gisele and had all the sophistication of a girl from Clinton, Mississippi, population twenty-three thousand, I believed The Scout.

Crystal Renn

Crystal Renn by Ruven Afanador

The second photograph is from 2007. It shows the naked back of a curvy woman, her dark hair curling into tendrils at the nape of her neck. Her body is half draped in rich red fabric. She's gazing off into the distance, lit from the side in a soft northern light. She looks like a Greek goddess or an Old Master painting -- a Vermeer, a Titian. There's an eye-catching weightiness to her. As she leans slightly to her right, two modest folds of flesh collect at her waist. (If you were a snarky sort, you might call this lush abundance "back fat.") The picture was taken by photographer Ruven Afanador for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It was a public service ad, designed to look timeless but also of the moment. The objective was to show beauty and strength, to offer hope of a healthy future for all women. It ran in every major women's magazine, from Vogue to O to Bon Appétit to Prevention. The woman in that photograph is me.

Hungry is the story of how I got from the first photograph to the second.

A straight line may well be the shortest distance between two points, but for me, the journey from the first picture to the second crossed continents and set the numbers on my bathroom scale spinning backward and then forward like a time-lapse sequence in a 1930s black-and-white melodrama. The interim was a time of triumphs and humiliations, a jagged line of drastic weight loss and brushes with fame and success and failure and emaciation and eating disorders, until I finally said: Enough.

I started to eat. I stopped churning mindless circles on an elliptical cross-trainer for seven or eight hours a day, my arms and legs jerking like a marionette's. I stopped obsessing about chewing a single stick of sugar-free gum. I got heavier. I put on pounds by the dozen and leap frogged dress sizes -- from 00 to 12. But I honestly didn't mind the weight gain and the loss of my matchstick limbs. I made a choice to stop starving.

Here's the strange part: Call it crazy or ironic or simply perfect justice, but when I stopped starving myself, my career took off. That was when I shot five international editions of Vogue and the covers of international editions of Harper's Bazaar and Elle. That was when I starred in Dolce & Gabbana's ad campaign. That was when I worked the runway as the final model in Jean Paul Gaultier's prêt-à-porter show in a gauzy, breathtaking, form-fitting fairy-tale dress covered in an explosion of tissue-paper-thin silk flowers. That was when I appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. That was when I became the highest-paid plus-size model in America. That was when I became a favorite model of the man who took that amazing picture of Gisele in 2000: the great Steven Meisel. And I did it all at the weight my body wanted to be.

I was hardly alone in my descent into weight obsession and madness. Five to ten million Americans have eating disorders. A 2005 study found that over half of all teenage girls and nearly a third of teenage boys use unhealthy methods to try to be thin, such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes for the express purpose of losing weight, vomiting, and taking laxatives. Even women without clinical disorders spend a heartbreaking amount of time obsessing about their weight, hating their bodies, and thinking that if they were only thinner, their lives would be richer, fuller, happier.

I'm the embodiment of the truth that it doesn't have to be that way. You can learn to love the size you're supposed to be. I had to lose seventy pounds (along with lumps of hair, muscle mass, the ability to concentrate, and any sense of joy) before finding my sanity. I regained the weight and, in the process, became an infinitely more successful model. My self-acceptance led to a return of the intellectual curiosity I'd had as a child, before I got on the weight-loss express. It led to a better career. It led to romance. I'm proof that life doesn't have to wait until you're skinny."

To purchase Crystal's book, click the link!

Watch Crystal's interview on ABC:

And below are excerpts from an interview of Crystal by Katie Hintz-Zambrano for Stylelist on August, 24, 2009:

"When Crystal Renn aspired to be a model as a 14-year-old in Mississippi, an agent (not from Ford) told her she had to lose 9 inches off of her hips first. Renn ended up doing that, and then some, going from 175 lbs and 5' 8" to 95 lbs and an inch and a half taller in two years, eventually moving to New York City and launching a successful modeling career.

After conquering the eating disorder that transformed her body, Renn, now 23, is happy to call herself a size 12 plus-size model, who, with her new curvy figure has walked the runway for Gaultier, graced the pages of Vogue and starred in ads for Dolce & Gabbana.

Renn's new book about her intriguing journey, titled "Hungry," comes out September 8 (pre-order it at Amazon.com).

We landed an exclusive interview with Renn in which the beauty opens up to StyleList about the dark side of modeling, accepting her body and coming out on top.

StyleList: Why did you decide to write this book?
Crystal Renn: I could only reach a certain number of people through magazine interviews and I wanted to take it to the next level and go into greater depths about my story. One of the messages I wanted to get out was that no matter who you are or where you are, you can accomplish your dreams. I'm a girl from Clinton, Mississippi, and here I am in New York. I also wanted to talk about body acceptance and help women feel empowered.

SL: How did your eating disorder develop once you were trying to achieve the model shape?
CR: It started gradually. I switched to whole wheat bread or eating eggs instead of beef. Just making everything lower in fat. Then it came to cutting out desserts completely. I ended up losing 30 lbs in 2 months, but then I plateaued. That's when it got pretty serious. I started exercising everyday between 1 hour and 8 hours. I wouldn't eat above a thousand calories. And the weight started coming off again. And this was all before I was even modeling yet. I was 15.

SL: Once you were in New York booking jobs and maintaining a weight between 105 and 95 lbs, did your agency and the people around you know what was happening?
CR: I think you had to be aware that something was wrong -- the veins coming out of my arms, the lack of energy, the hair falling out, being in a sullen dark place all the time. That's not normal for a 16-year-old girl. But they pushed me harder and even set me up with a very expensive trainer. I think they turned the other way.

SL: Did you notice the same issues happening with the models around you?
CR: The thing about anorexia is it's a really private thing. People who share openly think they are going to be judged. But I did meet other girls that I knew were suffering with it. I had a roommate and we were eating disorder buddies. And at shoots girls would share tips and it was really quite twisted. One girl said, "When I really want dessert I just eat fat-free Jell-o and I just eat tons of it." Or there were tips on drinking Diet Coke or eating just the peel of apples.

SL: What was your own diet like?
CR: I was probably eating 600 or 700 calories a day. I would steam vegetables and eat them with fat-free dressing for breakfast, for lunch it was lettuce with balsamic vinegar, for dinner maybe the same thing. Everything was always fat-free or sugar-free.

SL: What made you stop?
CR: At 17 my body completely rebelled. I couldn't lose more weight and I realized I was going to die for a job. The next day I was completely chastised by my agency for my size and one agent pulled me aside and said, "There's an option for you. You can either go plus-size or do commercial work." And I asked, "What's plus-size modeling? I've never heard of that." And she said, "Well it means you can be whatever size you want and model." But she said it was for old women! But for whatever reason, everything made sense and I knew this was the route I had to take. I went and had a salad with salmon and walnuts and olive oil. I gave into what my body needed. I could be healthy and happy and still model.

SL: Then you switched agencies to Ford's plus-size division and you've had a successful career. Do you think the enduring waif aesthetic in fashion will ever change?
CR: I believe it'll change because fashion is always changing. A hundred years ago, heavier women were more ideal and now it's a size 0. I think it's a cycle and I think that women want to see themselves in the pictures -- they want to see their size, color and height. I think if that happens, it'll make women feel more empowered and they'll love themselves more. In fashion, it starts with the sample sizes and I think designers are becoming more aware. But I think there have been many positive changes. I've done all of the Vogue's and Dolce & Gabbana ads. It's just a matter of time before it's brought back to mainstream."

Crystal, you're an inspiration. Congratulations on your recovery and on your book, Hungry.
~ Medusa


Follow on Buzz


hollyann44 said...


*THANK YOU* simply aren't sufficient words to express to you how grateful and blessed I am to have come across your website. As you know, I'm a "recovered" anorexic of 10 years. Well, today, I had to meet with our wedding photographer. He showed me tons of example photos of other brides, and all I could think was, "I need to lose weight for the wedding!!!" I came home and ate nothing the entire evening. Some part deep within me knew that I was doing something wrong and dangerous, but seeing my naked reflection in the mirror set off the panic of anorexia. FORTUNATELY, it occurred to me to visit your site again, as it always helps me to feel better about myself and my healthy body, as it looks NOW, rather than when I was skeletal. And this article was like a monumental wake-up call for me. I see Crystal, and read her story, and I slowly remember ALL of the things I've learned throughout the recovery process: that we all deserve love and food, that curves are beautiful and feminine, and that self-starvation is self-hatred.

THANK YOU, for pulling me out of my brief rut, and bringing me back to reality - the reality that I look beautiful JUST AS I AM, cellulite and tummy rolls and all. I look like a REAL woman. THANK YOU - you are saving more lives than you will ever know! May God bless you abundantly for your dedication to this issue, and for the immeasureable help you are giving to those struggling with eating disorders!!

I hope all is well in Canada. :) As always, you are in my prayers. Have a wonderful weekend!

Love & hugs,
Holly :) xo

Medusa said...


Reading your comments brought tears to my eyes.

I'm so happy this post about Crystal brought you back, as you said, to reality.

I was reading the current issue of Vanity Fair magazine last night and there, gracing one full page, was the breast cancer ad featuring Crystal. She is stunning.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your lovely words about my site. You made my day.

Sending hugs and love your way,


caitie griddlebones said...

This is amazingly inspirational. Crystal is beautiful. I am fortunate enough to have never had an issue with my weight; I eat healthily and exercise but do of course let myself have 'human' times with chocolate and lazy days. I am curvy and I love it. Hopefully more girls will realise their beauty and be true to their healthy selves.
Thank you Medusa!

Crystal said...

Crystal is a beautiful inspiration. However I find it so strange that she is considered 'plus-size'. She looks my size! I mean Marilyn Monroe was considered beautiful even to the modeling industry and she was a size 16! I think it is really lame that people can buy into the whole 'the thinner the prettier' crap. I know that my ranting sounds pretty dumb I just get carried away, I don't know why society wants us to be unhealthy. I think that healthy should be glorified.

Holly said...

I wish more people would focus on just being healthy rather than fitting into a certain size. I think Crystal Renn is starting to figure this out...