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During the darkest moments of her battle with anorexia, which started when she was 14, “I had to imagine food, because I wouldn’t eat it,” says model Crystal Renn. Pressured by agents to keep her 5’9″ frame at only 95 lbs., it took Renn three years of starving herself “to finally realize I was going to die for a job,” she says. In 2003 Renn got healthy—and relaunched herself as a successful plus-size model, even scoring gigs for the likes of Dolce & Gabbana. In this excerpt from her new memoir, Hungry, Renn, now 23, traces the roots of her obsession with being thin—and how she overcame it.
The [modeling] Scout leaped to his feet. “Oh my God, you’re gonna be a supermodel!” he said. He showed me a picture of Gisele. “That could be you,” he said. “There’s just one thing. You’d have to lose a bit of weight.” I was five-eight and weighed 165 pounds. I needed to get to 110. My project was weight loss. I lost twenty-eight pounds then stalled. I cranked up my diet. I ate little more than lettuce, drank Diet Coke, and chewed gum. I’d dump in packets of aspartame in water and pretend I was drinking a milk shake. My weight dipped below 130. I lost my period.
I joined the thousands of leggy young girls trotting around the city all day, lugging portfolios. But even with all that walking, I ran calculations in my head: How many calories had I burned? I joined two gyms. I’d spend four hours at one and four at the other, pounding away on the treadmills and ellipticals. I woke up regularly in the night, my mouth watering. I’d run to the kitchen, fill a spoon of Skippy, and cram it into my mouth. Then visions of being on a runway would flash in my head. I’d run to the sink and spit desperately and return to bed with a growling stomach.
Despite how hard I worked to stay thin, the numbers on the scale kept creeping up: 105, 111, 123. When I arrived for [one] job, the photographer flipped out. He screamed, “I can’t use her! She’s huge!” I couldn’t deny [it]. For my business, I was fat. I was a size 4. The casting director walked up to me and said brusquely, “You have to leave.”
Something snapped. I knew I was never going to weigh ninety-five pounds again. I was done. I told [my agent] everything. She said, “As long as you don’t gain more, you can still work. Or I suppose there’s plus-size,” she said dismissively. “Think about whether you really want to give up.” “I want to be plus-size,” I said.
I wasn’t sure where my career was going. But I wasn’t scared. I gained weight. I stopped counting calories. I didn’t weigh myself, so I don’t know how much I weighed when my period came back. It took a while to get used to my filled-out face and body. I had to learn new angles, new expressions. I [became] a far better model. Work began to pour in. I’ve come a long way. And the notion that someone as sick as I used to be can now represent a realistic ideal of female beauty and health, is a little bit miraculous.