Crystal Renn's Disappearing Act: Why the 'V' Magazine Spread Sends Mixed Messages About Bigger Bodies

When I stumbled onto the upcoming "One Size Fits All" photo essay in the January issue of V magazine, featuring plus-size model Crystal Renn, I was initially pleased. The spreads featured Renn and a skinnier counterpart in nearly identical clothing and poses. Renn looked awesome and, frankly, outdid her skinnier counterpart in a number of the photos:

Then, I did a little research, and it suddenly dawned on me: Renn is by no means plus size. While she is admittedly larger than the average model, Renn's body does not represent the rest of us. In fact, she has dimensions that most American women would envy: a 31-inch waist, which turns out to be six inches smaller than that of the average American woman, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not to mention that at 5 feet 9, she's about a half foot taller than the average American woman as well. When it comes to body diversity, Renn's spread is a big step for fashion, and a teeny, tiny nudge for the rest of humankind. (Plus-size models are smaller than plus-size people; though many plus-size models work at a size 12 or 14, the plus-size category begins at size 6.)

There's also the question of how much of Renn is actually in the V photos. Compared to the Harper's Baazar Australia spread she appeared in this past May, Renn looks positively emaciated. (And looking at the last photo in the Harper's series linked to above, an unairbrushed photo, shows how all models, no matter what size, are postproduced into an unattainable perfection.)

Comparing the Harper's photographs to the V spread seems to illustrate one of two things: either Renn has lost a lot of weight, or the editors at V have done a lot of airbrushing. Neither of these situations fit particularly well into the body diversity, everyone-is-beautiful ideals that V looks to be promoting.

So V features a woman who is taller than most of us, and smaller in the waist than most of us, looking a lot skinnier than she was a few months ago, and says that represents "all" sizes looking good. In a sense, that seems even more frightening to me than all the skinny models we see day after day. When we open up an issue of Cosmo or Vogue, at least we know the women we see are way beyond the norm, by no means obtainable. But running a fashion spread that says "one size fits all," with two models who are both a size or two (or 10) smaller, is even more dismaying.

Renn's appearance is part of V's special all-shapes-and-sizes issue, which frustrates me on a (no pun intended) larger level. Running a "special issue" to feature larger women makes an upfront declaration that this is not the norm, these are not regular models and, come next month, they will return to their regularly scheduled program. I love that Glamour ran a picture of size 12 Lizzi Miller right in the middle of a regular issue—and am encouraged that they've been incorporating plus-size models in other spreads. But doesn't running a feature like "These Bodies Are Beautiful at Any Size," as Glamour did in their November issue, just say these models are included for their size, not necessarily their beauty? Putting plus-size models in their own special issue only proves what we already knew: fat has yet to become fashionable.