Crystal Renn loves Tarallucci's spek and brie paninis. She pairs them with a Pacifico beer and treats herself to crème brulee for desert. Perhaps these are not normal habits for a supermodel who's graced the pages of magazines like Harpers Bazaar, i-D and French Vogue. Of course, Crystal Renn is no ordinary model. Currently featured in a sultry bedroom scene on the Soho Chanel store's "Coming Soon" sign, the chiseled-jawed, lush-eyebrowed brunette began her career in the eighth grade when a scout spotted her at an etiquette class in Mississippi, her childhood home. "You're going to be a supermodel," he revealed. But he also told her she had to lose some weight–a lot of it. After trimming down from a size 14 to a double zero with 16-hour workouts and a diet of zucchini, Renn found herself spiraling into the dangerous depths of anorexia. Three years later, she just couldn't do it anymore. Her former agents had poked and prodded her thighs and criticized her thin—but not thin enough!—frame one too many times. She launched herself as a plus-sized model and never looked back. Now a healthy size ten, the 24-year-old has worked with everyone from Dolce and Gabbana to Karl Lagerfeld to Jean Paul Gaultier. Her memoir, Hungry, (released last year, Simon & Schuster) is both a cautionary and inspiring tale for women of all shapes and sizes. Through confronting her illness head on, Renn has conquered her demons and her industry, proving that you don't have to be tiny to make it big.
KATHARINE ZARRELLA: You're in Germany. How is it?
CRYSTAL RENN: Good! I've spent the day reading and relaxing because I have a shoot with Peter Hong tomorrow. They're great! I've been working with them for a very long time and it's like a party every time we shoot.
ZARRELLA: What are you reading?
RENN: Pascal's Wager. He invented the calculator and he also said you can apply mathematics to faith in God so I thought that was pretty interesting. I recommend it.
ZARRELLA: Where are you based now? New York?
RENN: I like to think of myself as a child of the world. I really am based in New York but I find that even though I'm based there, I'm gone more often than not.
ZARRELLA: That's fashion for you. What was your childhood like? Did you ever think you wanted to be a model?
RENN: Absolutely not. Looking back, it didn't even occur to me that this was a job. I wanted to go into astronomy or to be a lawyer, which is really funny because I would absolutely not be a lawyer in any way now. But I still like astronomy.
ZARRELLA: Do you remember your first shoot?
RENN: My very first shoot in New York was Seventeen Magazine, which is really funny because when I got healthy and, I guess, moved into a different division in modeling, my first job there was Seventeen as well.
ZARRELLA: How do you feel about the term "plus-size" model?
RENN: It's funny. I have no problem with this term because it kind of saved my life; however I don't love that we have to give each other titles. I don't think that there's any reason I should be any different than a size two girl. But I'm not embarrassed of that term. I'm lucky that I have a place where I can model and be healthy.
ZARRELLA: What was the turning point where you said, "I'm done. I'm not starving myself anymore?"
RENN: I remember I walked into my agency to take Polaroids and I was very ill that day. I had done a 16-hour workout over the weekend and when they took Polaroids of me and inspected my body and pointed out my dreaded thighs, which, at the time, were a very sensitive point for me, I had a total meltdown. I went postal on them. I said, "You know what? I can't do this. You're telling me I need to go on a diet? My diet is already zucchini only. What do you want me to do?" And basically, they gave me two options: either stay the way I was and do commercial work, or do plus size modeling. So I walked out and I went and had a lunch. I remember having the usual salad but I added walnuts and salmon and olive oil and I thought, "The world didn't blow up!" I didn't gain 500 pounds and actually, I felt fantastic. I wanted to keep that feeling so I made a decision that day that I didn't care. There was more money to be made being healthy.
ZARRELLA: What's the biggest challenge of being a plus-sized model?
RENN: We're fighting a stigma: fat. People are really scared of fat. And I think we need to change people's minds and show that you can be bigger and you can be beautiful just as you are. It's about being and loving yourself and once I discovered that, life got much easier.
ZARRELLA: How do you define beauty?
RENN: It's funny because it's so hard to give beauty a meaning. I actually find quite a lot of beauty in really painful things. Really grotesque things. Things that are disturbing. I think as you go and as you see things in the world, your idea of beauty expands and I think I'm lucky because I've been exposed to so many different types of beauty and I've realized that any feeling you cherish is beautiful.
ZARRELLA: What have been some of your favorite projects?
RENN: Absolutely working with Jean Paul Gaultier. It was my first huge show and I wore a dress made specifically for me. He lifted me up and made me feel fantastic. I recently did his campaign shot by Inez and Vinoodh. There are moments in your life where you're like I have arrived. I'm here and I'm living and I'm present. And that was one of them. Also, I recently did Chanel's St. Tropez show and that was an amazing experience. I had always wanted to work with them and the fact that it came around only when I was healthy is kind of ironic. And of course, my work with French Vogue and Steven Meisel. He really started my career.
ZARRELLA: What do you think you're most proud of?
RENN: I have to say the Chanel show because I had wanted it for so many years and another moment has to be when I was recently on a Stephen Klein shoot for French Vogue and I was shot with my "bush" out.
ZARRELLA: Oh really?
RENN: It was pretty major. People get really uncomfortable about body hair and I think this was just another way to challenge the reader. That's what I love to do. I want them to analyze the situation. I want to be an actress when I'm on set, not just a model. Those are the moments I live for.
ZARRELLA: Was it difficult for you to relive your anorexia while writing your book, Hungry?
RENN: Enough time had passed that I was ready to write the book. Was it absolutely difficult? Completely. I had to go back and relive one of the more traumatic things in my life. I destroyed my body for three years and I nearly killed myself for a passion that I had. But I was finally able to close the door on that part of my life. It also allowed me to have a voice. And that's something I've wanted since I was a young girl, to be able to be heard.
ZARRELLA: Do you still have any demons?
RENN: We all have demons. I am a human being and I have bad days and I have bad things going on in my head that I have to deal with, but I'm very confident in my recovery. Do I have bad days? Absolutely. But there are ways to overcome these things and that's perhaps what I do differently: I don't allow myself to dwell day after day on my imperfections
ZARRELLA: What are your feelings on Marc Jacobs's new plus size line?
RENN: Amazing. I think it's incredible and I'm not surprised because it's Marc Jacobs. His ad campaigns have always sparked a bunch of controversy because he sees beauty in many different ways.
ZARRELLA: Fashion for Passion did some serious retouching on your images for their recent campaign. What was your reaction to that?
RENN: Well, it was a fantastic charity for kids in the arts and I thought that that was extremely positive but when I saw the images, I could not believe what I was seeing. I didn't think that it was an accurate portrayal of my body. I hadn't seen my body that thin in many years so it took me off guard. I was really really upset and I just couldn't have people thinking that I only believe thin is beautiful. Thin is beautiful, but it's not the only kind of beautiful. I didn't want people to get the wrong message because of some retouching. So I had to clear that up.
ZARRELLA: What do you want to do next?
RENN: Well I have to say the thing that I want to do so badly is design a line. I still don't know exactly what direction I want to go but designing a line for full-figured women, offering them a chance to have chic clothing that's maybe a little more daring than the clothing they've been offered in the past, I would like the opportunity to create that for them. I'd also like to break into the beauty industry and be the face of a makeup line. I think for it sends a fantastic message: Here's the face of beauty and look, she's a bigger size. That's what I stand for, telling people you can be just who you are. It's actually more beautiful.