Crystal Renn, Still Hungry?

Since reading her autobiography, Hungry, I’ve become a bit fanatical about the (so-called) ‘plus sized’ model Crystal Renn, so I’m rather embarrassed to admit that her shoot for Vogue Paris’ October issue passed me by. Luckily it was brought to my attention by Fernando of L’ Art Noir blog and, boy, am I grateful. Why? Because there’s a lot going on in there. The food for thought is just as excessive and messy as the spaghetti lustily piled on Renn’s plate.

First off, the shoot is immediately arresting because it’s so at odds with the usual high fashion imagery we have become accustomed to; There’s no whimsical flights of fancy here, this editorial is coarse, garish and downright dirty. But that’s to be expected when you get enfant terrible Terry Richardson on board as your photographer – it doesn’t matter whether he’s working for Vice or Vogue, Richardson is still going to serve up a salacious slice of TerryWorld. So, this is quite a brave move on the part of French Vogue, allowing luxury items (in this case, jewellery) to be promoted in such a left-field manner.

So, let’s talk about sex. Because, this being a Terry Richardson shoot, of course it’s about sex. Here’s Renn wetting two fingers in her mouth… now she’s letting slimy squid tentacles slide down her throat… and now she’s stabbing a juicy cutlet of meat held between her thighs… and here she is sucking hungrily on a bone (arf) whilst locking eyes with the viewer. It’s all pretty hot stuff, but it’s gross too – there’s something a bit ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ about it in that we are presented with a woman putting yucky stuff in her mouth for the sexual gratification of the viewer. Although Renn looks like she’s rather enjoying herself, and she talks a lot in Hungry about her love of food, this editorial doesn’t feel quite right as a depiction of a woman finding pleasure in eating. Perhaps if it was dribbling cheesy slices of pizza on her plate, or bushels of apples, rather than raw sea creatures it would be different – but, as it is, that particular message seems a little hard to swallow.

To my mind, this editorial is, at heart, a comment on excess. The copious cocktail rings that are being featured are piled on to Renn’s fingers, she wears chunky bangles, over-sized earrings, weighty necklaces (sometimes two at a time)… and what’s more, she wears them all at once. Of course, this is the norm for jewellery features, but here Richardson ridicules this excess by presenting the woman in his story as an all-round greedy pig, gorging on food in a most unashamed and grotesque fashion. But, obviously, this isn’t just any ‘woman’, this is Crystal Renn… and that’s where the whole thing gets interesting.

As Renn’s agency, Ford, themselves say; “She doesn’t so much acknowledge the elephant in the room as she devours it.” Whilst everyone is getting excited about the ‘plus-size’ revolution, in reality, Crystal Renn is pretty much our only large sized super-model. As such, she is the poster girl for curves, the go-to gal for larger than life shoots… which is all well and good, but it has hardly opened up the modelling landscape to a whole variety of ages, sizes and races like some would have hoped it might. Instead, we have the same base group of waif-like, young, mostly white models… and the token Crystal Renn.

And so, on top of all this, the way in which the plus-sized Renn is being presented here is a worry. The whole thing smacks of the creators gleefully shouting ‘Look! The only model who can eat as much as she likes is eating! For your entertainment!’ I doubt very much that Richardson would have gone down this gluttonous route if he had been working with any other model. It comes across as a bit of a freak show and, sadly, it feels like Renn could be alienating herself (and any other hopeful plus-size models) from main-stream editorials as a result.

That being said, Hungry proved Renn to be a fantastically intelligent, grounded, and driven individual who is very much aware of what she is doing with her career. Her attitude towards modelling is overtly artistic and she is enthusiastic about working with focussed creatives in order to realise their visions to their full potential. With this in mind, you can be sure that Renn must have put a lot of thought into this shoot and concluded that, rather than reducing her into ‘the model who eats’, she would get some great shots, break a few taboos and, ultimately, further her influence. Personally, I think she was right on the ‘great shots’ part – these images are aesthetically fabulous – let’s just hope she’s right about the rest.

See the entire editorial here and, if you fancy seeing a further commentary on eating, excess and consumerism, take a little look at the Ace Norton directed video for ‘Hustler’ by Simian Mobile Disco.

(Images from Ford Models Blog. Credits: Photographer, Terry Richardson; Fashion editor, Carine Roitfeld. Image source, Noir Façade.)

By: Sarah Barnes, 18.10.2010 | Comments (3)
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Comments
  • Fernando
    October 22nd, 2010
    12:51 pm

    I love your take on this! I do see why people might find this offensive. But I do believe people need to think why are we so offended by seeing a healthy looking model enjoy eating?There are many stigmas attached to girls with self proclaimed love for food. I don’t see Jamie Oliver dealing with criticism over his food obsessions.
    It’s a great provocative editorial that made us all think and feel challenged, which is more than we can say about British Vogue lately.

  • NH
    November 10th, 2010
    2:01 pm

    Thanks for tipping me off about Crystal Renn– hadn’t actually heard about her!

    The photo shoot in question is indeed aesthetically great. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same about that other Terry Richardson shoot that’s sparked controversy recently. It’s already been covered across most feminist blogs, but my favourite indictment comes from the Fug Girls:

    http://gofugyourself.celebuzz.com/go_fug_yourself/2010/10/fug_the_cover_dianna_agron_coryetc102010.html

    ps. Yes, the “Hustler” video ties in very well with this post!

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