This past weekend, I tore through the book Hungry by Crystal Renn. It literally took me just Saturday and Sunday afternoon to finish the 226-page book. But she has a very conversational tone and it’s a book about modeling and the rejection of starvation so it was a pretty easy read.
But an effective read.
Just a little background on Crystal, she is the leading plus-size model in America. And by plus, I mean she’s a 12 (not that big at all). She’s 22 right now and has already appeared in 4 international editions of Vogue (something unheard of when she started plus-size modeling back in 2004ish) and a slew of other high-profile, high-glamour publications and runway shows. She’s changing the face (er, body) of high fashion modeling as I type.
The book interested me from the start because it’s about a girl practically my same age who fell prey to the same body image demon that a lot of women (myself included) fall prey to: the idol of thinness. She was anorexic for about 2 years before deciding to step out boldly and attempt to be both a high-fashion and a plus-size model.
For me, similar to Crystal, the battle to love my body began in 7th grade. Not surprisingly, the despicable area (to me) was my stomach. Come to think of it, that was the only thing I didn’t like about my body throughout high school and into college. It’s the first place my body gains weight and the last place it loses it. No matter how strong and toned my stomach muscles are, it all hides under a layer of flab (Travis loves my belly, a fact that continues to mystify me). I know that if I just buckled down and didn’t eat so much ice cream chocolate or drank so much wine and instead counted calories and exercised like a nazi, I could lose the weight.
But let’s be honest – that sounds like hell.
That’s what Hungry is all about. Life is too short, relationships are too precious, that we shouldn’t spend all of our time worrying about being a certain size in pants or a certain number on the scale. For me, it’s reminding myself that I can be happy without washboard abs. And indeed, getting those washboard abs would guarantee misery for me because I would have to count calories, give up my favorite foods, and hand over my life to an illusion that is constantly just out of reach. I would rather enjoy life, eat great food, and do what I love than be a slave to image.
Of course, this is all so easy to say in the confines of my home office, where I am wearing a sweatshirt and slouching. But it’s a lot harder to accept myself when I go to Mexico and am surrounded by my bikini-clad, impossibly thin sisters-in-law. [They are great women and I love being around them. They are not judgmental at all and I have never had rude/snotty comments made about me. And I have to be honest and say that I’m not the giant cow I make myself out to be (though if you asked me on a different day, I might say otherwise).] Nonetheless, I have body issues. I’m sure every woman does and I have tried to remind myself of that.
But here’s what I’m learning. It isn’t worth the pain and anguish and worry to look a certain way. It’s better for me to wear a tankini and just cover up the area that gives me so much grief so that I can relax and enjoy myself already. I’m not trying to seduce anyone anyway – in fact, I have spent hours scouring racks in search of a bikini that doesn’t give this 34D girl major cleave (my search has, so far, been unsuccessful).
Not only does my obsession with looking a certain way (but never quite getting there) make me miserable, it makes me judgmental of other women. [This is hard to admit and I only do so because I think it’s the elephant in the corner. I think more women do this than like to admit it because it casts ourselves in a bad light. But hey, I know I’m a sinner in need of a Savior so I can fight against these tendencies with the freedom of knowing that even when I fail, I am still loved by God.] I am constantly comparing myself with them: “Skinnier than her – I’m better. She’s skinnier than me – I suck!”
In her book, Crystal tells women that they cannot look to the external world and society for validation and acceptance. That has to come from inside. As a Christian, I totally agree with her but would also add that validation and acceptance comes from being reminded of how precious we are in God’s eyes because of what Christ has done for us. We wear the robe of righteousness, of perfection.
More than that, God has created each of us to be different – to be exactly the way we are. I can stomp my feet all I want at how God created me but the fact that He created me to have long legs, a short torso, and a skinny little neck is a fact of life. I can spend my entire life wanting to change it (and being unsuccessful) or I can, like Crystal encourages, accept my uniqueness and embrace who I am, as a unique woman with a unique body shape.
Crystal talks about women having a “set point” – a weight that their body naturally prefers and gravitates to. I can back that up with experience from my own life. As an adult, I have always been about the same weight. The low exception was when I studied abroad in Venezuela (all the food went straight through me and I lost about 8 pounds in 6 weeks) and the high exception was when I was a pothead my freshman year of college and got the fierce munchies every night (I gained 20 pounds in about 2.5 months). But other than that, I’ve been pretty much the same weight as an adult, give or take 5 pounds.
I have also found that I am happier when I am focused on feeling and being healthy, instead of looking a certain way. I don’t feel healthy when I eat too much food for dinner or lay around on the couch all day. I don’t feel healthy when all I just eat sugar or I eat a big, greasy meal (my acid reflux hates me then too). I DO feel healthy when I take time to prepare and enjoy real meals (instead of grab-n-go stuff like I did in college), when I exercise regularly (pilates and swimming especially), and when I take time to relax and enjoy reading, writing, blogging, and hanging out with my husband and girlfriends.
I am all for women respecting themselves and their bodies by healthy living. Whether that that means their set point is a 2 or 12, that is how God made them. This book has completely changed the way I look at overweight people. Who am I to judge? I don’t know near the whole story and if they are overweight because of emotional issues, then they need a friend, not a judge. Healthy women are beautiful. (I pray that I will believe this more and more each day).
This pledge was in Crystal’s book (and she got it from Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon). It is my new credo:
The Live Well Pledge
Today, I will try to feed myself when I am hungry.
Today, I will try to be attentive to how foods taste and make me feel.
Today, I will try to choose foods that I like and that make me feel good.
Today, I will try to honor my body’s signals of fullness.
Today, I will try to find an enjoyable way to move my body.
Today, I will try to look kindly at my body and to treat it with love and respect.
I think that embracing and cherishing the body that God has given us is glorifying Him. It’s saying that His blessing in our lives is enough. His standard of beauty, and not the world’s, is what matters. “There is great gain in godliness with contentment.”