NEW YORK — Crystal Renn was miserable as a super-thin model who had heart palpitations when she'd worry that there might be calories in Diet Coke.
Her moment of epiphany came when "I couldn't walk another step without being exhausted, or having hair clumps falling out." She knew she needed to live in the body she was supposed to have — specifically a curvy size 12.
In a new memoir "Hungry," Renn, now a plus-size model, exposes her struggles with weight, health and self-esteem, fueled by the industry she says she still loves.
That is, she loves it now that she has been accepted — even embraced — by the fashion world.
"I got to my lowest point, when I couldn't go lower, and it was either, 'I'm going to die and not accomplish the dream,' or, 'I can become a plus-size model and keep the dream,'" she said in an interview. "I am healthy now, the healthiest I've ever been in my life — both physically and mentally."
'We have to appreciate all women'
Writing "Hungry" with Marjorie Ingall for Simon & Schuster was an important part of the healing process, said Renn, 23.
She had told her story before, but always in a quick hit for some magazine celebrating the novelty of an hourglass shape on its pages. The book is her attempt to move the needle on how people — everyone from wide-eyed young girls to jaded fashion insiders — perceive beauty.
"I'd like to see everyone take on the attitude that there are women of all different shapes and sizes as 'the beauty ideal,' and that it's not one type or another. There are women who are naturally a size 2 — you can't forget them, and that's discrimination the other way," Renn said. "All women bring something different to the table and we have to appreciate them all."
Some in the fashion, modeling and magazine industries have been receptive to the idea, she said, noting that she's still working with her fuller figure in Vogue, Glamour, on the runway with Jean Paul Gaultier and in ads for Dolce & Gabbana.
It's often not the typical "pretty girl" who makes the biggest splash anyway, she said, explaining that when a modeling scout first laid eyes on her as a chubby cheerleader, he was the only person other than her mother who said she was beautiful.
Still, Renn is not ready to declare that runways will be filled with curvy types anytime soon.
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"I believe there is a cycle to everything — Wall Street, the housing market, and modeling, too. Back in the Victorian days, it was all about a full figure, in the '50s, it was about the boobs, in the '80s it was shoulders and in the '90s it was waifs," she said. "It can only go up from here."
Celebrating with a salad
In the more recent past, say 2008, Renn writes in her book that she started to see a greater variety of models on the designer catwalks, and we're not just talking some size 2s and 4s. There also were girls with different hair color, skin color and body types, she observed.
Video: Plus-size model bares it all Fashion alone isn't to blame for the idea of carbon-copy beauty, nor is it to blame for all the girls out there with eating disorders, Renn said. But she added that fashion does help create the lens through which others, like the chubby cheerleader she was in Clinton, Miss., see themselves.
In hindsight, however, she cringes at her early modeling photos, as she focuses on the graying skin and lifeless eyes. Once she joined the "12+" group at Ford Models, Renn said she finally started seeing images of the young woman she knew she was meant to be.
(On the day she decided to switch gears of her career, she celebrated with a salad with salmon and nuts on it. It was, she wrote, a really big deal.)
Renn's favorite photo of herself was shot in 2004 by Steven Meisel for Vogue. It emphasized her mane of raven-colored hair and real cleavage.
"That shot — I knew this is my moment. I remember him saying, 'We've got it,' and I remember thinking, 'This is my time.' Everything I was working toward, taking a chance on becoming a plus-size model, following my dream, and now everything is happening in front of my eyes," Renn said.
'A beautiful model'
The American edition of Vogue is unrivaled in its power in fashion publishing. Using plus-size models is not the norm, but it's not unheard of, and there is an annual issue that celebrates the idea of "shape."
Check out these Ambush MakeoversThe Meisel picture "is a quintessential Vogue portrait, taken by one of our most important photographers and styled by one of our important editors," said spokesman Patrick O'Connell. "And Crystal certainly is a beautiful model."
Renn has taken her mind off 24-7 dieting and is more involved in the lives of her friends and family, she said.
Flashes of fears about her thighs — the bane of her skinny-model time of her life — still cross her mind, but she has learned to get over them quickly: She'll find her "positives" to distract her.
"I love my cheekbones. I highlight them," she said. "I also love my eyebrows. I have good thick healthy hair — and that shows how far I've come."
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