Friday, January 24, 2014

Putting the SELF back into Self-Image - Interview with Jennie Runk

There is a lot of attention on self-image right now. What is it? What should it be? I talk about it a lot, because for the most part.. I'm pretty comfortable with mine. However, a lot of people aren't, so I've brought in a few people to inspire us all. Today, we will start with someone I've known for a while...

I spend a lot of time reading articles trying to find what people are interested in… what inspires them. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across an article on the Huffington Post - “11 Body Image Heroes of 2013”. Right above the incredible Jennifer Lawrence, who came in at number two, was plus-sized (normal-sized) model Jennie Runk, who I actually attended college with at Stephens. Some of you might remember the 5’10, size 10-14 bombshell as the first plus-sized model to be featured in H&M’s swimwear catalogue in 2013.

I had to reach out to her. I had to know how this beautiful, confident woman manages to maintain her healthy body image views in the media and fashion industry. Some of her answers will surprise you. In fact, they have changed the way that I even see myself…

Tennessee Martin: How did you get into modeling? What made you decided to pursue it as a full time career?

Jennie Runk: I was discovered when I was 13, at Petsmart in Chesterfield, MO, while raising money for the Open Door Animal Sanctuary. Mary Clarke, from Mother Model Management, met my mother there and set up a meeting. When my mom told me a modeling agency was interested in me, I told her I wasn’t interested. I think my exact words were, “Mom, I’m so much more than a face and a body, why would I ever want to model? That’s so superficial.” I was pretty active in my high school’s theater department however, so when my mom mentioned that a career in modeling could lead to an acting career, I reluctantly agreed to give it a shot. I stuck with it when I learned that it’s not as superficial as I assumed - most of the people I’ve met throughout my career are really interesting and down-to-earth people. Also, as it turns out, I was pretty good at it.

TM: When did weight/size first become an "issue" in modeling or life?

JR: For me, personally, it was never an issue. I’ve fluctuated between a size 10 to 14 a few times in the past 10 years, and no matter what size I was currently at, I loved it. There are certain things I love about being a size 10, and certain things I love about being a size 14. If I woke up tomorrow and was suddenly a size 2, I’d love that. If I woke up tomorrow and was a size 22, I’d love that too. It’s about perspective. Instead of thinking “my butt is too big,” think “this booty is the best booty because it’s so big.” Since I’ve been a plus size model from the beginning, my size has never been an issue for work. I don’t let the word “plus” mean anything negative. To me, it’s the same as calling me brunette or tall. It makes no difference how other people label me. This is the body I come in. I’m happy to be me, so if I’m labeled as plus sized, then I’m happy to be plus sized

TM: What advice do you have for other women who are facing body issues? 

 JR: You are so much more than your body. You are a unique individual person with her own thoughts, opinions, traits, and passions. You should never limit your sense of self to what you think other people might see when they look at you. Think about your idea of the perfect person, someone you would want to be friends with or fall in love with. Create a person in your mind that you aspire to be like, and then work towards becoming that person. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you who that person should look like, don’t let any outside source define beauty or perfection for you. That’s for you, and only you, to decide.

TM: What do you think makes a woman beautiful? 

 JR: To me, real beauty comes from the effect a woman can have on a room. Being captivating isn’t about glossy hair or a certain waist size, it means you can literally captivate someone by what you have to say and how sincerely you say it. It’s about being open, inviting, and friendly to anyone you converse with. It’s about having a passion, and being able to fiercely defend why you’re passionate about it. It’s about being sincere when you tell someone it was nice to meet them. There is a substantial amount of beauty is in an uninhibited smile.

TM: The fashion industry is a lot like the entertainment industry. There are a lot of smoke and mirrors involved with making women and men appear flawless. How do we remind young women that these expectations aren't realistic? 

JR: I was a girl scout co-leader the year I was in Vogue, Seventeen, and CosmoGirl magazines. I brought these magazines into a meeting with my troop and asked the girls to point out all the differences they saw between the images in the magazines, and the girl they saw standing right in front of them. They pointed out that I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, not expensive designer gowns or clothes. They also noticed that my hair was up in a bun, rather than styled, and that I wasn’t wearing any makeup. Overall, they said I looked more like a real person outside of the images, than in them. This is also why I post pictures to my facebook and instagram of me, just living my life like a normal person. I want my fans, especially young girls and teenagers, to know that I don’t always look like what I do in magazines or catalogues. Creating an image for a magazine or advertisement is just that, an image. It’s not supposed to look like real life. It’s supposed to look like a heightened, more exciting version of real life. I think the fashion and entertainment industries do this for the same reason illustrators create cartoons for kids, and for the same reason authors create novels. Real life can be hard, confusing, or even just boring. Sometimes it’s nice to see a fantasy life - a different version of life where everything is beautiful and anything is possible.       

TM: What is the most incredible thing you've experienced that you were able to do because of your modeling career?

JR: Every year, I volunteer in the Mathews Dickey Boys and Girls club Sheer Elegance show in St Louis. I do everything I can to sell tickets for the show, because the money goes towards funding their program. The club really does amazing things for kids in the area. They not only provide free sports teams and clubs for kids to join, but they also offer free tutoring and homework help. It’s a great way to keep kids from joining street gangs or doing drugs, because they have so many constructive ways to keep them busy and help them realize their full potential, all completely free. The more successful I get, the more I’m able to give back to the community, and that’s what’s so incredible about it. I wouldn’t be able to give back as much as I do if I hadn’t had the kind of career I’ve had.

TM: You have beauty, and brains.  If you were a political leader during this time, what is the number one thing you would change? 

JR: I would be proactive in putting a stop to bullying in schools. Violence in adults is likely to have started in childhood, so why not go to the source? Not only will kids be able to learn more in a safer environment, but children with violent tendencies will learn early that there’s no place in a productive society for that kind of behavior. I just read an article in Popular Science that showed, statistically, how well healthy eating campaigns have affected the obesity rate in kids, and how those kids are more likely to grow into healthier adults because of this. It’s proven that having a positive impact on a child’s physical health will help them grow into healthier adults, so I think we should apply that to mental and emotional health as well. We are more than our bodies, after all.

TM: You have a beautiful figure. How do you maintain a weight where you are comfortable? Do you have a specific "life routine"? (Nutrition/Workout/etc.)

JR: I’m a vegetarian, which helps me maintain healthy eating habits. I need to make sure I get protein and iron from things like beans and vegetables. I don’t beat myself up for indulging in Baked by Melissa cupcakes when I’ve had a long day, or getting cheese fries from Steak n Shake when I go home to Missouri. I only eat when I’m hungry, then when I’m not hungry anymore, I stop. I can tell when my body isn’t happy with what I’m putting into it. When I’m not getting enough iron or protein or vitamins, I get tired and moody, so I act accordingly. If I’m feeling moody, I’ll get a protein salad or some fruit, then I’ll feel better. I walk a lot in New York City, sometimes a few miles a day, and I’m pretty active when I’m shooting, so I don’t worry about hitting the gym. I’m not really a gym person, to be honest. I hate sweating. I love swimming however, I’ll jump at any chance to get active in the water. You can’t tell you’re sweating when you’re in the pool!


TM: What do you hope to leave behind on this earth as your legacy?

 JR: I want to keep communication going about the way women treat each other and the negative effect this can have on society. I think that, if enough people are aware of this and talking about it, then we’ll finally stop fighting this pointless war on our own bodies. It’s a waste of energy we’d be better off using on other, more important things. It’s silly to be fighting each other when we still live in a world where women have yet to earn the same wages for the same amount of work as their male coworkers. Think of all the amazing things women can accomplish if we take the passion we use towards attacking any body type that’s not our own, and apply it to something that really matters. In the end, the question of which bodies are better is not only pointless, but also embarrassingly unimportant. They’re just bodies, we all have one, and they should be as diverse as our thoughts and personalities are. If when I die, people are a little nicer to each other because of something I’ve said or done, then I’ll be happy with the life I’ve led.

TN: Are you happy with the way your life has turned out? What has truly contributed most to your happiness? What would you change? 

JR:  I wake up most days in stunned disbelief of how well my life has turned out. It’s almost like I went to sleep as an awkward 13 year old and woke up in my mid-twenties with an apartment in Manhattan, a degree, an awesome career, a great book collection, and the coolest cat in the world. For most of the past decade, I’ve been so focused on finishing school so I could move to New York and really work on my career that I hadn’t really thought about what I’d do once I got here. All that focus and dedication paid off, but it made those years seem to fly past like a second. If I could change anything, I would have told myself to really slow down once in a while to appreciate the process. Although, if I were to say something like that to my teenage self, my teenage self would have replied, “um, move out of my way, I’m working on stuff, ugh adults are so weird.”

TM: Any advice to those who are hesitant to pursue their dreams, regardless of the reason? 

JR: Go for it. Even if you fail, you’ll always know you had the courage to try. That courage, and knowing you have it, is inspiring.

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