Plus-Size Model Jennie Runk Talks Fashion Industry & Being a Role Model

It may have been slow coming and way overdue, but the fashion industry is changing. Check out our interview with plus-size model Jennie Runk.
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It may have been slow coming and way overdue, but the fashion industry is changing. Check out our interview with plus-size model Jennie Runk.

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It may have been slow coming and way overdue, but the fashion industry is changing. At last year’s New York Fall Fashion Week, the first plus-size collection strutted down the runway, breaking 60 years of the industry’s love for all things skinny. And today’s start of Fashion Week’s spring collection is proving that curvy is getting more coverage and respect. Case in point: IMG Models just announced it’ll be show packaging its plus-size models right along with its traditional top models.

With this refreshing shift beginning to take place at Fashion Week, we decided to talk to one of the most sought-after curvy models in the industry, Jennie Runk.

Runk has been donning swimsuits for years, but it wasn’t until H&M featured her in their swimwear campaign last spring that she went from plus-size model to spokesmodel for curvaceous “weirdos” like herself.

“I didn't expect the attention it got, but when it happened, I saw an opportunity I couldn't ignore,” Runk said. “I found myself with an audience, I had something to say, so I spoke out. It seemed like the right thing to do.”

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The heart of her message: Be yourself.

Spotted at the age of 13 while volunteering at a Petsmart in Missouri, Runk was given the option of losing weight to become a size four, or gaining weight and going into plus-size modeling. She chose the latter. Now 24, Runk’s a leader in her field.

We spoke to the brunette beauty about the fashion industry and how it’s making more room for all kinds of women.

What are your upcoming Fashion Week plans? During fashion week, I'm generally pretty low-key. If I'm invited somewhere, I'll go, but other than that, I prefer to stay in and catch up on my sleep.

You’ve been in the business as a plus-size model for several years now. How have you seen the industry change, and where do you think it is heading? The plus industry has changed a lot in the past ten years. Every year, more and more plus-size models are in more mainstream ads and campaigns than before. We want the media to represent all kinds of women as equally as possible, and we're making it happen, and that's incredible. It makes me really love being a part of this industry, which in the past, has had a pretty bad reputation for women's self-image. We're really turning things around, and I don't see any reason for us to slow down now. I think in the future, we'll see a much wider variety of models in mainstream media.

Courtesy of Nordstrom

Courtesy of Nordstrom

Do you think there is more of a push these days to accommodate women of all sizes? I think there is definitely a push to accommodate all types of women today. With all the methods consumers have of publicly expressing their opinions to and about various companies, those companies have to listen. Women want to see real women who look like themselves, and they've spoken up. As a society, it's important to recognize that there is no one definition of beauty, there is no normal, there is an infinite amount of body types out there, and they all deserve to be equally represented in media.

Do you think there should be a line drawn on what people wear depending on their size? I would never tell someone they should or shouldn't wear something. Yes, there are certain styles that fit better and work better for different bodies, but it's up to each individual person to decide what they're comfortable in and what works for them. Making rules limits our self-expression. Try everything on, pick your favorites, and create your own style. You know your body better than anyone else can, so only you can decide what makes it look and feel amazing.

Why are people so obsessed with size anyway? I think it results from our habit of comparing ourselves to others and trying to "fit in." When I was a teenager, it seemed to me like all the short, thin girls were having all the fun. Their lives just seemed perfect. Obviously that's delusional, no one's life is perfect, but try telling that to a 13 year old. It's a shame that it takes most girls at least a decade to realize they were being ridiculous about their bodies when they were younger. We need to teach young girls today that there's no reason to make comparisons that a unique body is a perfect body, so they don't grow up to have the same regrets a lot of women today have. Many women I've spoken to say they wish they had known, when they were younger, how beautiful they really were. No one should have to live those years without a strong level of self-confidence.

You have been outspoken about body image. Do you see yourself as a role model to girls who don’t fit the norm? What do you have to teach them? I do see myself as a role model for girls who don't feel like they fit in. I'm really grateful to be in a position where I can be, because I was one of those girls. I think most women have felt like that girl at some point in their lives. It's important for girls today to know that they're not the only person feeling like they don't belong or can't fit in. I was a total weirdo as a kid. My friends and I played out “Star Wars” scenes in the hallways between classes in high school. Did we get made fun of? Of course, but who cares, we were having fun and that's what matters. Kids should just enjoy their lives and not have to worry about what other kids think of them. You can miss out on a lot if you're too worried about other peoples' opinions.

Curvy is confident: Candice Huffine and Jennie Runk in the Marina Rinaldi Spring/Summer 2012 campaign.

Curvy is confident: Candice Huffine and Jennie Runk in the Marina Rinaldi Spring/Summer 2012 campaign.

You were discovered at a Petsmart. How did that happen? I was volunteering with the Open Door Animal Sanctuary. They had a Santa photo op for pets, and I was cutting out the pictures and handing them out to people. At times, I had to help settle down a high energy dog. Ironically, a few people might even have my arms in their holiday pet photos from that day.

Tell us about your cat and your love for animals. I grew up in a very animal-friendly environment. My family rescued and fostered dogs when I was a kid, so we'd have between 4 and 10 dogs in the house at a time, which made for a really amazing childhood. I remember running around in the backyard with them and falling asleep in a warm fuzzy cuddle puddle. I couldn't sit on the couch without an animal in my lap, and I can't imagine ever living without at least one pet. I volunteered and worked with animals as a kid until I was well into college. My cat, Jasmine, greets me at the door before I can even open it, she sleeps on my head every night, and I actually get really homesick for her when I travel. I've always considered animals to be small family members.

When you’re not working, what’s your favorite thing to wear? Usually, my number one goal is to be comfortable. I love a giant t shirt or tunic sweater with leggings. When I go out, I like short dresses or skinny jeans with heels. I love wearing heels when I go out on the weekends, they make me feel so powerful and in charge.

How do you unwind from the crazy work life and schedule of being a model? I'm really good at relaxing. My favorite way to take a break from life is to dive into my collection of video games and books. I also love reading or watching Netflix in a bubble bath, that's what I use my iPad for most of the time! Give me some salts, oils, bubbles, a couple of candles, and a liter of Perrier and I'll soak all day. Another favorite unwinding activity of mine is a good brunch with friends. There's no stressful week that some poached eggs and a few Sunday mimosas can't diffuse.