Plus-sized model Crystal Renn has been EVERYWHERE for the past few months. Girlfriend must be tired as hell by now. She’s been in Glamour, Grazia, Italian Vanity Fair, and countless other pubs that claim to be working toward a more diverse beauty ideal, and want non-skinny body types represented. And while I applaud these efforts, and truly believe that ANY attempts at change and opportunities for discussion are valuable, several interviews with Renn and incisive commentaries on her various high-profile spreads have led me to conclude that she is fast becoming the poster child for everything that’s wrong with the fashion industry.
For starters, Renn is “plus-sized” only by modeling industry standards. Much has been made of the fact that she’s a size 12, which is actually smaller than the American average, and many people are positively livid that someone of her size would be deemed a plus. So, there’s the fact that, in modelville, someone who is a size 12 is considered “big.” And then there’s the seemingly automatic stigma of even BEING a “plus size” and all the outrage that someone of Renn’s size and stature could be labeled with such a repellent term. Double-whammy of twisted yuckiness.
Then we’ve got the fact that photographers and editors actually want Renn to appear bigger than she truly is. She and other plus-sized models are occasionally asked to wear padding for photo shoots, and have reported that their fat rolls are focused on and exaggerated for effect. They get retouched nearly as often as slim celebs and models do, only the retouchers make them look heavier. And while it makes many of us feel more normal to see a little pooch on a woman in a mag, it seems strange to hear that plus-sized models aren’t plus enough. And the focus is on the pudge itself and not how amazing these women look in gorgeous designer duds.
Finally, although magazines have paid lip service to bodily diversity and many are making admirable efforts, it seems like the focus is STILL on weight. I am yet to see tiny little petites, or non-hourglass figures, or older women in fashion editorials or advertisements. And certainly not on the runways. In her book Hungry: A Young Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves, Renn says, “When designers and editors choose one fat girl to salivate over, and revel in her avoirdupois, I’m not sure how much it advances the cause of using girls of all sizes in a magazine.”
And yet, if anyone is going to be the poster child for everything that is wrong with the modeling industry, I DEFINITELY want it to be Crystal Renn. Because I think her very presence will help move changes forward. As someone who spent years trying to be a “straight” model, she’s seen the industry at its body-bashing worst. In the past she fought hard against her natural shape, but realized that the battle was killing her and reached a place of contentment and self-love as a non-skinny woman. She knows that she’s being used – that she is at the eye of this fashion/body size storm and being used by both sides to frame arguments – but instead of getting furious or removing herself from the fray, she is wisely riding the tide. Sure, she stands to make some serious bank, but if her memoir tells us anything it’s that Renn is a quiet soldier in the battle for bodily diversity. She strikes me as smart, grounded, patient, focused and clear-headed. She knows that if change is going to come, it’s going to come in tiny increments, and believes that is for the best.
“I’m fighting for something,” Renn said to the New York Times. “I believe fashion can be a place of diversity. It’s not going to happen overnight, but do you want it to?”
What do you think of Crystal Renn? The various spreads she’s done recently? The plus-sized model controversy? Anyone read her memoir? Thoughts on that? Do you think her quiet efforts could help carve out a place for bodily diversity in the fashion industry?
Image courtesy NYT.