Hungry for stardom

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Crystal Renn is a 23 year old model who lives in Brooklyn, New York. Hungry is the story of her journey from miserable size 0 sixteen year old, struggling to survive in the cut throat world of high fashion, to becoming a happy size 12 model.

Many of the sentiments expressed in this book will ring true for men and women. We are constantly told by society that you have to be thin to be successful/loved/happy/whatever. Many people are on diets, and think that when they’re thin, their lives can begin. The media is obsessed with celebrity weight – baby weight, cellulite, too thin, too fat and so on, which makes the public more prone to scrutinise themselves. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not the fault of the Big Bad Media people that most of the population in the Western World are at least conscious of their weight, but I think that the media have a lot of influence, especially over young people.

On the other hand, it is not healthy to be overweight. Your joints are under more pressure, your organs have to work harder and in extreme cases, you suffer from sleep apnoea, which basically means you’re suffocating underneath your own excess weight.

It’s a difficult question, and one which I think Renn tackles well for the most part. She is clearly not overweight – she has a nice figure and she looks healthy. As far as her size goes, though, she is overweight – a UK size 16. Perhaps the lesson she is trying to teach, and one which I think we should take more notice of, is that it doesn’t matter what size you are. As long as you are eating basically the right things, doing a bit of exercise and generally look after yourself, the size on your jeans shouldn’t matter.  Personally, I will never be a size 0. Not to be too macabre, but I don’t think my skeleton would even be a size 0. I have hips and a bust, thighs larger than my wrist and shoulders wider than eight inches. However, that doesn’t make me right and natural size zeroes inhuman or unnatural. For all of the lip service we pay to loving everyone no matter what colour they are, or size, or class, there are a thousand red ringed pictures of so-called ‘fat’ celebrities, programmes about the biggest loser or fat versus thin. If we didn’t put so much emphasis on weight, it wouldn’t be a problem.

On the other hand, Crystal Renn is a bit of an anomaly. Her standard menu for a day includes things like smoked salmon and coffee, but it reads like a normal menu. I have known people who quite happily eat a large pizza for breakfast, lunch and tea (or near enough) and not gain a pound. The book makes it quite clear, though, that she had to battle with her body to maintain the size 0 figure she had managed to whittle it down to. In those photos, she’s glassy eyed and shrunken. Her diet was lettuce and water, with one stick of sugar free chewing gum if she felt like she could treat herself. This was accompanied by 4-8 hours a day in the gym. This case study goes someway to illustrate the idea of a setpoint for your weight, which Crystal uses to pad out her relatively short story with. The set point is a sort of body thermostat for weight, where your body is happiest. Research suggests that it’s genetic, which is a bit of a blow to all of those apparently overweight people. Personally, I think our bodies are cleverer than to have a set point that causes undue stress on our muscles and organs, so I don’t think it can be used as an excuse for being double the weight you are ‘supposed’ to be. I found the setpoint theory to be interesting, although I hope it’s not used as an excuse in the future.

Another thing that Renn says within the book’s pages is that the BMI upper limit was decreased in the nineties, bringing the so –called healthy weight down from 27 to 25. That meant that literally overnight, thousands of people were classed as obese. How is that fair? How does that make sense? Personally I don’t subscribe to the BMI calculation as an effective way to measure healthy weight. Athletes are obese and rugby players are morbidly obese – clearly not true. BMI does not take into account your natural build or that muscle weighs more than fat. It may be a good guideline, but it should not determine whether you have a gastric band operation or not, for example.

In the middle of the book there are photos from Renn’s life – her as a baby, her first shoot, her first card, all the way through to her wedding day and walking down the runway with Gaultier in a beautiful custom made dress. I read a review online (possibly on Amazon.com, although I can’t find it) where the reviewer criticised the way she looked in her wedding photos, for not looking beautiful enough. When I looked at the wedding photos, I saw a stunning young girl on the happiest day of her life. Whoever wrote that review had definitely not understood the point of the book.

So, what was the point? For me, it was about learning to love our bodies instead of hating them. Live, love and be happy with your waistband. Look after your body and it will look after you. As Crystal Renn says – be nicer to people than you feel like, because everyone is on a journey. Or words to that effect. Renn wants to be treated like a normal model instead of a plus size, but to do that she needs to stand out and be ‘super-normal’, thereby not being normal, if that makes sense. She says repeatedly that she does not want to be The Plus Size model – she’s just one girl. On the other hand, if her presence makes it easier for more natural looking women and men to model clothes, then she is making a difference. The other issue is that of the rise of the ‘volumptuous’ woman – those who are deemed curvy but are in fact, overweight. That is going to have to be a different review.

Read this book. Borrow it from the library

or a friend – don’t buy it. The fairytale wedding ending to the book did not last, and a mere six months after publication it’s out of date. I would keep an eye on Crystal Renn though – she’s not going to be stopped.

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The Book Challenge – Done!

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Well, what a challenge that was! Last year I read at least fifty two books. I say at least because I read a couple of others which I didn’t review. So, that’s a lot of pages. At an average of 350 pages per book, that works out at 18, 200 pages this year, without counting the other material I read throughout the year – blogs, texts, newspaper articles,magazines, adverts, subtitles and letters.

I definitely feel proud – I read lots of books I’d wanted to read for ages (Slaughterhouse 5, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest), familiar friends (The Time Traveler’s Wife) and some books I never want to read or even see again (Fame Fatale, Widows of Eastwick).

I thought a list of things I learned would be fun:

  • All books have a human element
  • Lots of books mention Norwich
  • The standard of proof reading is not up to scratch
  • When you have a week to read a book, the last day is spent reading
  • I cry easily at books

This year, I’m going to carry on reading, but not a book a week. You’ll see reviews posted pretty regularly as I now have dozens of books that I couldn’t fit in last year to read!

Thanks for all your support – it’s been lovely to talk to so many friends who read this little blog of mine.  Hopefully you’ll continue to read.