I woke up yesterday morning with a weird combination of nausea and a fever, so I took a sick day and spent it in bed with a good book: Hungry: a Young Model's Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves by Crystal Renn. Luckily, my strange malady passed quickly, but the book will continue to stay with me for a long time, I hope. Hungry was written with a collaborator and isn't a perfect memoir by any means, but it is stunning in its truthfulness. (Perfect for National Honesty Month!)
Crystal Renn once lost 70 pounds to achieve her dream of becoming a high fashion model. She got the big contract, along with a severe eating disorder. Eventually, she (and her body) rebelled against the pressure to be extremely thin. She's now the highest paid plus-size model working today. But her work hasn't been limited to Lane Bryant fliers. She's done editorial work in Vogue and Glamour, and she walked the runway for Jean-Paul Gaultier in an amazing couture dress designed specifically for her.
This book is a fast and compelling read, despite the gravity of some of the topics. I identified with Crystal quite a bit. While she obsessed over Elle Macpherson's workout tape and Oreos as a teenager, I have memories involving a Cindy Crawford exercise tape and a batch of peanut butter cookies. I've been a yo-yo dieter since my teens. I've always wanted to be super skinny, though it's gotten to the point where I'm not really sure why I want that anymore. At this very moment, my weight is at a high point on the yo-yo's arc, and now is, historically, the time I start running for diet books and new exercise classes. In fact, I bought a copy of The South Beach Diet just the other day.
There are very direct correlations between sewing, body image, and fashion. As I discussed in this post, sewing my own clothes has, to some extent, alleviated a lot of my body issues. But sewing is hardly a happy fuzzy land disconnected with the grim realities of fashion: in fact, they go hand in hand more often than I would like. Vogue Patterns relies on big name designers, and many of us follow the runways religiously so we can knock off the looks on our own. The point is: we're certainly not immune to the workings of the fashion industry, just because we make our own clothes.
And it's hard to ignore that there's something about the whole culture of fashion that makes most women feel bad about themselves (just check out this article for proof), and Hungry gets to this point in a concise way, exploring how the fashion industry employs a certain amount of victim-blaming and lack of humanity in their continued support of models with disordered eating. And to the people that automatically screech, "But being fat is unhealthy!" this book offers a lot of solid research on why health actually comes in many different sizes. I also found Crystal's take on health to be very refreshing; she's an organic food enthusiast and seems to eat more healthfully than many skinny women who, in our culture, appear to be the "picture of good health."
Health at Every Size is a book that Crystal recommends for replacing weight obsession with healthy habits. I think I've found the perfect book to replace my new copy of the South Beach Diet . . .