The pressure of being a plus-size model

Crystal Renn was an icon for women of a fuller figure. Then she lost weight – and the backbiting began

In an industry dominated by the stick thin, Crystal Renn has stood out as one of the few plus-sized models to have obtained genuine global recognition with the leading fashion houses. She regularly graces the pages of Vogue, is on the books of one of New York's top modelling agencies and is this season's face of Jimmy Choo.

Now the model – whose shape and ubiquity have made her a poster girl for those who struggle to relate to the image of womanhood they see in magazines – has hit out at the media and her fans for boxing her in to the plus-sized category and expecting her to maintain her fuller figure.

In a video interview published on the website of Ford Models, Renn's agency, the 24-year-old said: "Where do I feel pressure? Probably more than any place from the public. And the media.

"By placing a title on my head – which is plus size – and the picture that people have placed in their mind about what plus size is, I'll basically fail you just with that. Because I couldn't possibly live up to that. And at this point in my life, I would actually have to have another eating disorder to live up to that expectation."

Unlike most models who might show frustration trying to stay an industry acceptable thin, Renn is not angry with people for expecting her to keep the weight off. She is instead annoyed by the pressure on her to keep her fuller figure.

Over the past month, fashion blogs and gossip columns have been filled with feverish – and often cruel – comments over Renn's changing figure which has dropped from the UK size 16 that made her so famous to a 12.

In the fashion world, where anything above a size six is considered unusual unless you are very tall, Renn's figure is still relatively curvaceous. Most women of her build would not get a look in at the mainstream agencies. But many commentators have used Renn's recent weight loss as an opportunity to suggest the Florida-born model is somehow selling out the principles on which much of her success is built.

The debate wasn't helped by Ford Models updating its statistics for Renn on its website and giving her size as a two – the equivalent of a UK size four, which would have been a dramatic weight loss.

As speculation went in to overdrive her agent, Gary Dakin, the man considered to have pioneered the recent growing acceptance of plus-sized models, issued a statement saying the mistake was a printing error. He added: "If people have truly followed her message, it is about acceptance and beauty at any size".

Even so, Renn is clearly feeling the pressure to be a standard bearer for plus-sized models – a term that she has always expressed a dislike for because the weight that the fashion industry might regard as plus sized is all but a normal, healthy weight for an average woman in the developed world.

"I had anorexia ultimately because someone set the standard for me and I wanted to follow it," she said referring to her teenage years before she became a plus-sized model. "If I followed what the public, or the media, wanted from me I would be doing the same thing. I would have a binge eating disorder. The most important thing that we all need to know whether you're a model, a normal person walking around, an editor or a photographer is that it's about individual health."

It was a black-and-white photo shoot for the small-circulation fashion magazine Little Planes that got the gossip tongues of New York wagging. Renn appeared in its pages looking noticeably slimmer than in the swimsuit shoot she did for Glamour in 2009 which effectively launched her as the acceptable face of plus sized. The issue received significant feedback as readers poured in their approval of – shock horror – a magazine using a model that actually looked like its readers .

The timing also tied in with a growing recognition inside even the most exclusive fashion houses that consumers were becoming increasingly intolerant of the lack of variety on catwalks and concerned about the health implications of size-zero figures. What made Renn so unusual and refreshing was that her success came once she started to put weight on. She was first discovered by a talent scout at the age of 14 and spent her teenage years following the path of so many young models, trying to maintain a thin figure in the face of biological inevitability.

Anorexia quickly set in as she tried desperately to keep the weight off. Her Damascene moment came as a size-eight teenager being sent home from a catalogue shoot for being too large. Instead of packing in she put weight on and signed with the plus- size agencies and has hardly looked back since.

But if Renn had her way, there wouldn't even be a need to use the phrase plus-sized.

"[You] have to realise that plus- size model doesn't mean plus-size woman," she told a US radio station this week. "But bridging the gap would be a very good thing. We need to have all sizes. This isn't a them against us fight. It's about bringing everybody together."

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

    SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

    Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

    £85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

    Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

    £55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering