My World: Breaking the Mold by Leigh Belz October 26, 2009.



Crystal says she dieted down to a sickly 95 pounds during the first phase of her modeling career (left). Her memoir, Hungry (right), comes out this month.



As a teen, Crystal Renn starved herself to get into the competitive world of modeling–but became a bigger star after embracing her natural body type.

My World: Breaking the Mold: Sound Off: Connect:
by Leigh Belz October 26, 2009

I was always, you could say, a different type of child. I was a bit of a Goth girl and really into music. I went to a religious school in Florida and was the only one wearing long-sleeve velvet tops. I was rebellious, especially with clothes.

When I turned twelve, we moved to Mississippi. Clothes and appearance mattered a lot there. And I looked different. I had long, dark hair, and kids in school couldn’t tell what my nationality was. They called me Pocahontas. It made me really unstable and self-conscious for the first time in my life.

My mother was concerned and put me into a beauty and etiquette school. I didn’t really care; I just went. When I was fourteen, a modeling scout came to the school and approached me. He showed me some magazine spreads and said, “I think you can do that. You can do Vogue.” I looked at this picture of Gisele with her hair flowing and thought, No way! But then, something clicked. I can’t explain it. I knew I had to do it. I didn’t really like my life and saw this as my ticket out.
He said, “You’ll have to lose some weight–ten inches off your hips. If you do that, you can be a supermodel.” This was my chance, and I threw myself into it 100 percent. The next day I wrote down everything I ate. I bought all these diet books to educate myself on nutrition; it wasn’t only about losing weight–I wanted to know about carbohydrates, sodium, and fat. I dropped 30 pounds in three months. There was no middle ground–I was losing those ten inches. I exercised every day and cut even more calories and dropped down to about 115 (I’m five feet nine). I was still too young to model, but I was getting myself ready.

I lost all my friends because I’d never go out. I knew I had an eating disorder, but I was too focused on leaving Mississippi and making my mark. When people asked about my health, I’d say, “I’m eating healthy and working out.” They just didn’t know that I was exercising eight hours a day.

Finally, when I was sixteen, the scout came back to visit and said, “You’re perfect. Come to Manhattan. You’re ready.” I got to New York and thought, I’m here; all the work paid off. I moved into a model apartment and began going to castings. I was always more of a print girl than a runway model, though I did a little of both at first. But then I started getting sick. Basically, I had gotten down to 95 pounds, and my body had gone into starvation mode. My hair was falling out. My body was saying, “No way, no how.” And then I started gaining weight, even though I was always at the gym and essentially eating only lettuce.

The day I broke down, I had worked out for sixteen hours over the weekend because I had to take bathing suit Polaroids for the agency the next Monday. When I left the gym, I could barely walk–it felt like my muscles were deteriorating. Something had to change. I thought, I can’t deal with this for one more second. I’m done.

So I went in to the agency and told them what was going on. They told me I could either go a more commercial route or try plus-size fashion modeling. I said, “I can be any size I want and still model? Yes!” After I left the agency, I had my first real meal in years: Salmon, walnuts, and olive oil–it sounds healthy now, but at the time, I thought it was amazingly decadent.

My goal remained the same–I wanted to do fashion editorial modeling. But now I was going to do it with my real, healthy body. Once I began eating regularly, my metabolism freaked out, and I went up to a size 16. But eventually I leveled off at a 12. It took me a few months to heal.

My first job as a plus-size model was in editorial, which is unheard of. More of my being different, I guess. A few months into my new career, at the start of 2004, I was called for a shoot with photographer Steven Meisel for Vogue. To do Vogue was the ultimate accomplishment. For him to say “Yeah, you don’t fit the normal model type, but I’m going to use you for this, Italian Vogue, and Dolce & Gabbana” was so empowering.

After that, I told my story in Teen Vogue and also was featured in Vogue, and French Vogue, and it became this big thing. A literary agent approached me and said, “I would love for you to write about your experience.” I loved the thought of helping other people. I worked with a coauthor, and my book, Hungry (Simon & Schuster), is out now.

I really believe that everyone has a set-point weight, and if you try to fight it, your life will be hell. We all have different set points, so for the media to tell women there’s only one size to be and one way to look is ridiculous. I think girls should look in magazines and feel empowered by what beauty is; I hope I’m helping to take it to the next step.


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