Sept. 8, 2009 -- In her memoir, Crystal Renn details her struggles as a young model in a constant battle between her ambition and her appetite.
But after years of fighting, Renn eventually embraced her body. Her struggle, she said, is one that reverberates across the country.
"I was hardly alone in my descent into weight obsession and madness," Renn writes. "Five to 10 million Americans have eating disorders. Even women without clinical disorders spend a heartbreaking amount of time obsessing about their weight, hating their bodies and thinking that if they were only thinner, their lives would be richer, fuller, happier."
Check out an excerpt of the book below and then head to the "GMA" Library for some more great reads.
Hungry: A Young Model's Story of Appetite, Ambition and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves
This is a story about two pictures.
The first is a photograph of the supermodel Gisele. Taken by thephotographer Steven Meisel, it appeared in Vogue in 2000. Gisele isin a clingy white gown, posing in a studio against a seamless graybackdrop. Her skin is golden and gleaming. Her hair is windblown,as if she's been surprised by a breeze from an open window just outof view. Her hands, her eyes, the curve of her back—everything isgraceful and expressive. She's mesmerizing.
I was fourteen years old when I saw that picture. It was the firsttime I'd ever leafed through a copy of Vogue. I'd never cared aboutany fashion magazine; I'd looked at that one only because a man I'llcall The Scout had handed me a copy. He was working for a majormodeling agency—let's just call it The Agency—in New York. Hisjob was to troll the back roads of America, visiting junior highschools and suburban malls, in a ceaseless quest for the next topmodel.
I had never met anyone like The Scout before. He was urbaneand kind, smooth-talking yet sincere. I was dazzled by his shirt. Tailored to perfection, it was probably more expensive than my entirewardrobe. When he opened Vogue to Gisele's picture, he knew exactlywhat he was doing. He was planting a fantasy. In the few secondsit took me to absorb all of Gisele's beauty and allure, I'dconstructed a new idea of female perfection. It was Gisele.That's when The Scout said, "This could be you."
And even though I was only fourteen and weighed sixty poundsmore than Gisele and had all the sophistication of a girl from Clinton,Mississippi, population twenty-three thousand, I believed TheScout.
The second photograph is from 2007. It shows the naked back ofa curvy woman, her dark hair curling into tendrils at the nape of herneck. Her body is half draped in rich red fabric. She's gazing off intothe distance, lit from the side in a soft northern light. She looks likea Greek goddess or an Old Master painting—a Vermeer, a Titian.
There's an eye-catching weightiness to her. As she leans slightly toher right, two modest folds of flesh collect at her waist. (If you werea snarky sort, you might call this lush abundance "back fat.") Thepicture was taken by photographer Ruven Afanador for the BreastCancer Research Foundation. It was a public service ad, designed tolook timeless but also of the moment. The objective was to showbeauty and strength, to offer hope of a healthy future for all women.It ran in every major women's magazine, from Vogue to O to BonAppétit to Prevention. The woman in that photograph is me."Hungry" is the story of how I got from the first photograph to thesecond.
A straight line may well be the shortest distance between twopoints, but for me, the journey from the first picture to the secondcrossed continents and set the numbers on my bathroom scale spinningbackward and then forward like a time-lapse sequence in a1930s black-and-white melodrama. The interim was a time of triumphsand humiliations, a jagged line of drastic weight loss andbrushes with fame and success and failure and emaciation and eatingdisorders, until I finally said: Enough.
I started to eat. I stopped churning mindless circles on an ellipticalcross-trainer for seven or eight hours a day, my arms and legsjerking like a marionette's. I stopped obsessing about chewing a singlestick of sugar-free gum. I got heavier. I put on pounds by thedozen and leap frogged dress sizes—from 00 to 12. But I honestlydidn't mind the weight gain and the loss of my matchstick limbs. Imade a choice to stop starving.
Here's the strange part: Call it crazy or ironic or simply perfectjustice, but when I stopped starving myself, my career took off. Thatwas when I shot five international editions of Vogue and the coversof international editions of Harper's Bazaar and Elle. That was whenI starred in Dolce & Gabbana's ad campaign. That was when Iworked the runway as the final model in Jean Paul Gaultier's prêtà-porter show in a gauzy, breathtaking, form-fitting fairy-tale dresscovered in an explosion of tissue-paper-thin silk flowers. That waswhen I appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." That was when I becamethe highest-paid plus-size model in America. That was whenI became a favorite model of the man who took that amazing pictureof Gisele in 2000: the great Steven Meisel. And I did it all at theweight my body wanted to be.
I was hardly alone in my descent into weight obsession and madness.
Five to 10 million Americans have eating disorders. A 2005study found that over half of all teenage girls and nearly a third ofteenage boys use unhealthy methods to try to be thin, such as skippingmeals, fasting, smoking cigarettes for the express purpose oflosing weight, vomiting, and taking laxatives. Even women withoutclinical disorders spend a heartbreaking amount of time obsessingabout their weight, hating their bodies, and thinking that if theywere only thinner, their lives would be richer, fuller, happier.
I'm the embodiment of the truth that it doesn't have to be thatway. You can learn to love the size you're supposed to be. I had tolose seventy pounds (along with lumps of hair, muscle mass, the abilityto concentrate, and any sense of joy) before finding my sanity. Iregained the weight and, in the process, became an infinitely moresuccessful model. My self-acceptance led to a return of the intellectualcuriosity I'd had as a child, before I got on the weight-loss express.It led to a better career. It led to romance. I'm proof that lifedoesn't have to wait until you're skinny.
From "HUNGRY" by Crystal Renn with Marjorie Ingall. Copyright © 2009 by Crystal Renn. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY