Model Crystal Renn has become the poster woman for curvy girls everywhere, many of whom know her story: As a teen model, Renn tried so hard to get down to the size 0 designers wanted that she developed bulimia and anorexia.
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So when Renn saw the published results of a recent photo shoot she did for charity Fashion for Passion in which her body was whittled down via retouching, her reaction was vehement.
“When I first saw the photos, I would have to say I was absolutely shocked,” Renn, 24, told Meredith Vieira on TODAY Thursday. “I think I sat in silence for a good five minutes.
“I didn’t think it was an accurate portrayal of my body in any way,” she added. “I’m a size 10, and that’s more like a size 2.”
Since recovering from her eating disorders seven years ago — Renn had an epiphany when her hair started falling out in clumps and she could barely muster a step without becoming exhausted — the model has seen her career take off. She’s in high demand from fashion’s top photographers, gracing the pages of Vogue and Glamour, sashaying down the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier, and being the face and body of Dolce & Gabbana ads.
Appearing with Renn on TODAY, health writer and body-image blogger Leslie Goldman told Vieira there was nothing short of “mass hysteria” when the new Renn photos were released.
“Mostly people felt a sense of betrayal before they knew that the pictures had been retouched,” Goldman explained. “I think women have so few role models to look up to that they felt, ‘Now [that] she clearly thinks she needs [to do this] to be beautiful, I’m going to have to do that, too.’ ”
“I don’t want [women] to think my message isn’t the same, that I think thin is the only way to be beautiful,” Renn said. “Beauty is not a pants size; I think it’s about what I have to say and how I live my life, which is in a healthy way, I believe, for me. I want them to know I’m healthy.”
But the photographer who did the controversial shoot said the issue has been blown out of proportion. “The minimal retouching that I did do, it’s nothing you wouldn’t see in any magazine today,” Nicholas Routzen said. “There is nothing hidden about this.”
Renn firmly disagreed. She said she could barely recognize her full-figured self in the slimmed-down shots. “I absolutely understand a reasonable amount of retouching, but to change my body completely, that is not what I’m about and that’s not my message, and that’s so important to me,” she told Vieira.
Renn added that her plus-size career has been going great, and said she has the support of many top designers, who tell her, “Don’t you lose any weight!” Even so, the model is a bit slimmer than she was a year ago: After years of eschewing exercise as she came to terms with her eating disorders, Renn told Vieira she’s back to working out.
“I thought it was as great a time as ever to start taking care of myself and reintroducing exercise back into my life,” she said. And while she may have dropped from a size 12 to a 10, she said there’s plenty of wiggle room in her style of modeling.
“You can be a size 8 all the way up to a 20, and that offers a lot of freedom,” she said. “With what I do, I can fluctuate, as opposed to what I had to do before.”
And Renn looks forward to the day when all fashion models have the same freedom. “What I think would end the confusion is if we just called each other ‘models,’ ” she said. “No more straight size, no more plus size, because I think it’s us against them; them against us.
“That is absolutely not the way women should look at each other. That’s where I’m going; that’s where my message is going.”
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints