Crystal Renn is glamorously sexy. She’s a jet-setting high-fashion model who’s effortlessly alluring, regally balanced and … a size 12?

Jonathan Duggan
Plus-size model and new Dolce & Gabbana face Crystal Renn. (Courtesy of Ford Modeling)
Jonathan Duggan

Renn has been modeling since she was 14, but almost no one recognized her face until this past year when she emerged on the scene 70 pounds heavier than modeling agents originally demanded. Renn rebounded from an anorexic past to become a successful plus-size model, and has consequently become fashion’s new face for promoting a healthy body image.

Renn’s recent success isn’t just a pity party. She’s become one of Dolce & Gabbana’s sultry new icons and has walked the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier, who designed a sheer, curve-hugging gown especially for her shapely figure.

But let’s not get carried away: A quick glance at any newsstand is evidence enough that size 12 is by no means the new and accepted norm.

“Doesn’t anybody eat around here?” a resigned Anne Hathaway asked in “The Devil Wears Prada.” “Not since two is the new four and zero is the new two,” countered her magazine colleague, Nigel.

“Well, I’m a six.”

“Ah-ha, the new 14.”

It’s no secret that the media hammers us with an unattainable model of beauty, but professional lighting and precision make-up jobs don’t shield most of us from our off days and clumsy slips.

That’s not to say that being stick-figure thin is a requirement, either. With obesity on the rise, a push for healthier lifestyles is becoming as pervasive as the media’s unattainable images we’re expected to imitate.

We all bore witness to Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty, designed to celebrate every woman’s body and promote “a broader, healthier, more democratic view of beauty.” The ads showed women of all ages, sizes and races. Response to the campaign varied, but Dove’s initiative provided the impetus for honest dialogue.

Even Barbie has had a facelift since the days of our childhood, when her impossibly narrow waistline and towering legs – heels perpetually anticipating a pair of fluorescent pink pumps – spelled perfection. Mattel’s plastic mold has changed to make room for wider hips and a considerably reduced bustline.

The point is, society is beginning to embrace a more comprehensive view of beauty, but the fashion industry hasn’t completely caught up.

Spain’s premier fashion event, Pasarela Cibeles, will enforce a minimum weight-requirement for models stepping on the runway this year. The new protocol is an attempt to appease volatile reactions from public and health officials after last year’s show, criticized by many as a grotesque parade of waifish mannequins. The idea is as encouraging as it is radical, but the new regulations have caused more aggravation than anything else.

In reality, the fashion industry is hardly ignorant of its unforgiving standards. If designers were genuinely concerned about the pressure on models to conform to an ideal body shape, the industry would have already attempted to change the system.

What’s most disconcerting is the industry’s willingness to bend to a nagging public. Fashion has historically been ahead of the people, generating distinctively progressive designs that are ultimately fed to the masses. If designers choose to address the market’s anxieties before giving birth to their own creative instincts, what will the future of fashion become?

Call me pessimistic, but the probability of a full-blown shift in body image perception is less than likely on the part of the fashion industry, especially in the overnight manner people are pushing for. With this in mind, should Renn simply be classified as the media’s token plus-size model? Her story is an easy one to splash on the page in defense as the global society takes to criticism.

But all ulterior motives aside, Renn represents more than laughable novelty. Her impeccable bone structure and piercing brown eyes lay the foundation for her expressive versatility, and her feminine curves can be both voluptuous and delicate at once. She’s been photographed wearing everything from seductive lingerie to classic Mediterranean, exuding confidence in every shot.

Even more impressive is that designers and photographers aren’t working their tricks to play down her size, a recurrent strategy in plus-size modeling. If anything, Renn’s curves are accentuated to full-figured flattery.

Renn epitomized D&G’s ideal woman in the design house’s summer ad campaign, clad in sexy leopard-print and shooting come-hither glances. “The Dolce & Gabanna woman is strong,” reads their website. “She likes herself and knows she is liked.”

Renn’s modeling talent shouldn’t go overlooked in place of the plus-size demographic she will inevitably symbolize, but whether her place in the fashion industry represents more than a fleeting trend toward health and body acceptance remains to be seen. She wouldn’t be the first model in history to break with tradition and wind up on top – but she also wouldn’t be the first to disappear.

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