'Fat Acceptance': Women Embrace the F-word

The annual cavalcade of unattainable fashions modeled by women with even more unattainable bodies began in New York City this month; fashion season is officially in full swing.

Every year, one model dominates headlines, and this year that model is Crystal Renn. Renn has that exotic sort of beauty loved by fashion photographers. She's been photographed by the best of them and has been featured in Vogue magazine, the Bible of high-fashion, six times.

But Crystal Renn is not the typical model. She is several sizes bigger than other top models.

Fat and Happy

"I'm a size 12," she said proudly. In her timely autobiography, "Hungry," Renn describes her crushing introduction to modeling at just 14 years old.

"I had to lose about 10 inches off of my hips," she said. "Doesn't sound like that much when you are 14 years old. But I realized later that, you know, because of those 10 inches, I almost lost my life."

She struggled with anorexia for two years, losing 85 pounds (over three years) and whittling down her 5-foot-9 inch frame to a perilously thin 95 pounds. "I didn't feel beautiful at all because how can you?" she said. "I was so detached from my body to the point where I would look in the mirror and see something that's not real."

But at 16, with her hair falling out and her skin turning grey, she got a modeling agent. And even after she lost 85 pounds, she didn't become the cover girl the magazine editors had promised she'd be.

"All the promises that were for me didn't come true," she said. "They weren't happening. I was very unsuccessful. Yeah, sure I was doing a lot of editorials but I wasn't doing the American Vogue that I wanted to be."

Renn says her body was so out of whack, the weight started coming back with the tiniest bit of food.

"I had two roads in front of me," said Renn. "I said, 'OK, I can starve myself and continue what I am doing. Or I can probably die.' I decided I am going to be healthy, I am going to be voluptuous because that's what I am supposed to be."

'Fat Acceptance'

It was only when Renn let the diet go that she got her dream back -- a contract with industry leader Ford Models and, in 2004, that elusive American Vogue spread, shot by acclaimed photographer Stephen Meisel.

"I finally did get work with the people I had been aspiring to work with since I was 14," she said.

Renn also models for plus-size brands, such as Lane Bryant, and she has her curves to credit. Without knowing it, her decision to gain the weight back makes her part of a growing movement called "fat acceptance."

"It's trying to argue that we need to accept natural body diversity, that diets don't work, that all of the research shows that trying to lose weight and keep it off is fruitless for most people," said Kate Harding, a blogger and author of "Lessons From the Fat-o-Sphere." "And we need to stop demonizing fat people and start accepting ourselves in the bodies that we have."

While medical research has drawn links between obesity and disease, Harding points out that weight is not always an indicator of health.

The Size Acceptance Movement

"There's a substantial amount of information suggesting that the obesity crisis is not all it's hyped up to be, that the dangers associated with fat itself are, in fact, way overblown. There are fat fitness instructors, there are fat people who do aerobics, who do cycling, who run triathlons," said Harding.

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