After years of envying Kate Moss‘s seemingly infinite closet and Gisele‘s parade of bang-able boyfriends, a girl would be right to think the hardest part of a model’s life is choosing whose yacht in Ibiza to sunbathe topless on today.
But a few years ago, “America’s Next Top Model” began to peel back the layers of the modeling industry (well, with a weird, Tyra Banks-ian spin), and then a blogger called Tatiana The Anonymous Model chimed in on Jezebel about her take on a model’s life. But the piece de resistance on the Ugly Side Of Modeling canon is Hungry: A Young Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves by plus-size model Crystal Renn. Renn recently spoke to Salon.com and The Daily Beast about her career so far: She was discovered at age 14 in Clinton, Mississippi, by a modeling agent who said the teen could be a supermodel like Cindy Crawford—if she lost a lot of weight.
Indeed, dropping 70 pounds (by starving herself and exercising up to eight hours a day) earned Renn a lucrative modeling contract by age 16. But she couldn’t shake the scrutiny of her modeling agency, which put relentless pressure on Renn for her size. Then one day, the agency told the then-size 4 anorexic and bulimic model that she still needed to lose weight.
And that’s when Renn realized something was very, very wrong.
These days, 23-year-old Renn is a healthy, 165-lb. gal working for Ford Models’ plus-size division. But Renn only found herself a happy home after ditching her previous agency and its expectations of her (not to mention her expectations of herself) that she could starve herself down to “normal” model size.
Yet, the most heartbreaking thing about Renn’s story is not that one girl wanted so badly to become a model that she fostered an eating disorder. No, it’s that photographers, stylists and magazine editors create a dynamic in modeling culture which discourages the inclusion of regular-sized women. Kara Jesella, a former editor at Teen Vogue, told The Daily Beast about what happened when she booked Renn for a photo spread. Though the spread ended up getting a “great response” from readers, beforehand Jesella said she fretted about whether professionals would work with a size-12 Renn:
“A lot of times, the photographers and stylists don’t want to work with heavier girls, because they don’t think the pictures will be as good or will help them get the high-paying advertising jobs that are their real bread and butter. Plus, editors want to keep their readers happy, and there are always readers who write in and say that using heavier models spoils the fashion magazine fantasy or that the magazine is promoting obesity or something like that.
Really?! Photogs and stylists get on these models’ backs too, because they’re afraid it will look bad for their own careers? It seems to me they’re not actually as good or as versatile at their jobs as they think they are if they can’t dress or photograph a girl who’s bigger than a size 2.
All things considered, I can’t help but think that a lot about the modeling industry is just abusive to the models. Agencies, model bookers and stylists set the rules in a situation where young women have no control over anything but their size, yet they’re desperate for fame, money, and a glamorous lifestyle. Luckily, Ford Models is way more supportive of Renn’s actual size. She told Salon.com:
“The interesting thing about Ford [modeling agency], as opposed to other agencies, is that they have many different categories of models. So when you’re with an agency that’s that supportive of a variety, I have to say, the judgment is way, way less. And the pressure is off. They were completely, 100 percent behind me, and because of them, I was able to do what I do. Another agency would have said, ‘No way.’”
Surprisingly, Renn told the Daily Beast she doesn’t resent that model scout who told her to drop so much weight at 14. She says it was her responsibility and that when she was scouted she didn’t fully understand what she was doing. One wishes she had never tried to warp her body to be successful as a size 0, though—maybe Renn could have tried plus-size modeling earlier. But as she told Salon.com, “I was 14 years old. I just said yes.”