A frank discussion about body image, dieting, and feminism with plus-size model Jennie Runk
One recent post to her Facebook page, in response to an episode of South Park about Photoshopping, she wrote "There is a difference between the real me, and the girl you see in my campaigns and catalogues, etc. Like characters in your favorite books or movies, we are based on real people, but in the end, those images are fictional."
I sent Jennie an essay I wrote for ELLE's January issue on feminism and weight loss and called her up to talk bodies, modeling, and confidence. Now I want her to be my own personal self-esteem guru.
I discuss the ups and downs of weight in my story-numbers and all. Do you mind telling my how much you weigh?
I don't even own a scale. I just never bought one. Clients just want to know measurements.
So do you wear plus sizes? I've always been confused about the actual size of plus-size models.
Every brand sizes differently; it's hard to discern what size you are. I have things from a size 10 to a 14, some 8s and a 16. If I were in a store, I would pick up a 12 to a 14.
So tell me a little bit about becoming a plus-size model.
When I was discovered, I was around a size 8, which was a little on the small side, for being a plus-size model and I was 13 years old. I was told I could go down to a 2-4 or go up to a size 10 and I could have a successful career as a plus-size model. It wasn't even an option for me to get down to a size 2.
Don't you think there would be a lot of girls who would do anything to get down to a size 2 in order to become a model?
There are a lot of girls who would do anything for that. I was lucky because I was given an option to become a plus-size model.
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In my story, I talk a bit about my relationship to food and the way my family dealt with it. Did you grow up with a totally healthy, happy outlook on food, where your family ate meals together?
Very few people grow up in a stable household with proper dinners. My mom was on both sides of eating disorders-she struggled with anorexia before my sister and I were born and later went to eating disorder meetings and support groups. Then she went to overeating. Now she's always looking how to make her diet better and healthier. For me it's interesting to see that whole struggle. when you're a kid, it's just what your mom does.
And what were your eating habits like?
It was normal in high school to grab Doritos and a Dr Pepper and call it breakfast. [Laughs.] The only person you can really rely on is yourself to teach you to eat healthy. In New York, there are vegetarian and vegan restaurants that will deliver to my apartment-it's readily available. I often order from Just Salad from lunch on my days off and do whatever I want for dinner. When I go back to the south or Midwest, there are drive thrus and so much fast food, it's hard. But I don't ever really feel guilty about indulging once in a while. Healthy people are happy people.
As a lifelong feminist, I really struggled with losing weight from a political place. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I've always considered myself a feminist. In high school I drove my dad's pickup truck with feminist stickers on the back and bright pink seat covers. My ringtone is Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation." I went to Stephens, a woman's college, and joined a feminist protest group.
So how is it to be a feminist and a model?
It was a struggle for me to be in an industry that people blame feminist issues on. There's a very narrow example of what the perfect woman is. But I've got this great career, I love my job, and it's a good living. Working in the industry has been good for my self-esteem. I was tall and weird and captain of the improv team growing up-really, I was one of the weird kids. And then I was thrown into this industry and everything I thought was really weird, they loved. They'd say, you're hair is so thick and curly and crazy, you're so tall, I love it. People are paying attention to me and I have a voice. The biggest thing for women to keep in mind is you can't ever let someone define beauty for you. Look in the mirror and say that this is my definition of perfection.
Don't you think that's easier said than done?
For some it's a big struggle. As a teenager, I was bigger in every single way than the other girls. It was really hard for me to wake up and go to school every day. But every teenage girl feels like that, and every teen girl thinks she's the only one that feels like that. We need to start talking about it, so maybe their friends will say I feel that way, too.
One of the best parts of feminism is the conversations with can have with each other. Why aren't we complimenting each other instead of being jealous and catty? It all stems from our insecurities.
More from ELLE:
Sugar Addiction is a Real Thing – And there is a Cure
11 Models Reveal Their Beauty and Fitness Secrets
Instagram Star Leah Kelly on Plus-Size Modeling and Body Image
Photo Credit: H&M