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Role Model: An interview with Jennie Runk

by Georgia Luckhurst

There are many issues facing the fashion industry today – especially the fact that it often inspires negative body image in girls across the world, who don’t feel thin enough, white enough, tanned enough, tall enough, big-breasted enough or even just good enough.  Lately though, a long-overdue emerging trend has been storming the fashion world: plus-size style.

Everyone has a different body shape, and it’s refreshing to see more and more of those unique, different and equally beautiful bodies finally being represented.  Having been wowed by H&M’s latest, headline-grabbing swimwear campaign starring model Jennie Runk, I managed to summon up the courage to ask her for an interview about her role in the modelling industry and what the fashion world still has to achieve.  Thank you so much to Jennie for agreeing to answer my questions, and thank you also to her for being an inspiration and a breath of fresh air in a world that can seem stifling with often only one kind of beauty being revered.

Do you think the modelling world has any more progress to make?

Definitely.  I think the world in general should maintain a constant state of progress. Part of living is learning, and using what we learn to make the world better for ourselves, and especially for younger generations.  By changing a few things in one part of the world, such as fashion or media, perhaps those changes can lead to bigger changes in the way people think about themselves and treat each other. My goal is to work towards the day when people will stop calling each other too fat or too skinny or too anything – a day when people can live and let live in peace, regardless of the bodies they’re living in.  By introducing a wider variety of body types in fashion and media, we can take the first few steps towards that goal. In order to achieve this kind of change, people everywhere will have to get on board and do what they can, even if it’s on a local level. If one girl in one school stops calling people names, maybe others in her school will follow suit, and maybe this harmony can spread to other schools. Respect and kindness can be just as viral as bullying, if we make a conscious effort.

Do you worry about the obsession with being skinny in our society?  What do you think of the current trend of having a “thigh gap”?

I think it’s really sad that something as variable as a thigh gap can become a trend. Trends, like fads, change all the time. There was a time in the past when having a thigh gap would have been considered sickly and undesirable. It was silly then, and it’s silly now. Some people have skinny legs, some people don’t. There will always be some people with skinny legs and some people with thick legs. It has nothing to do with being an admirable or worthy person, it’s simply the way your body is built, there’s nothing wrong with it. You are so much more than your body, you should never ever let anything as pointless as whether you have space between your thighs or not dictate your worth. If you do that, you’re not giving enough credit to the most important parts of you – your mind and your spirit. Be intelligent and kind. Be a person you would want to be friends with or fall in love with, and you’ll realize how silly it was to worry about your thighs in the first place. They are such a miniscule part of who you are.

Do you think that models have a responsibility to act as role models to their younger fans?

I consider it a personal responsibility for myself, but I’ve always considered myself a role model. I’ve been a girl scout leader, camp counselor, and babysitter throughout my teen years and into my early 20′s. Whenever I speak to a person younger than myself, I automatically become a sort of big sister, aware that when I was young and a cool older person took some time to interact with me, I looked up to them. Kids and teenagers get overlooked by the adult world too often. I want to make sure I never make anyone feel overlooked. I remember what it was like being a dorky kid and an even dorkier teenager, and I want all the “dorky” kids and teens today to know that I have been there, done that, and I grew out of it fabulously, so you can too. Being young is often awkward and uncomfortable, but it doesn’t last forever, and it can be so much fun if you let it. I think anyone in a position where kids might look up to them should keep it in mind that they’re setting an example, and to think hard about the kind of example they are.

Was there ever a point in your life when you felt unhappy with your appearance?  How did you overcome that feeling?

I remember often feeling like I should be unhappy with my body, but it was confusing, because I never thought there was anything wrong with it until people started talking about it. My sister and I would have conversations about how many girls’ thighs seemed to be the size of our arms, or their waists were the size of one of our thighs. I had friends in school who were a foot shorter than myself, and a size 2, pinching their tiny bellies at lunch talking about how much weight they absolutely have to loose, because they’re really letting themselves go. At the time, I was wearing a size 8. When someone who is less than half your size calls herself fat, you end up questioning what you should be calling yourself. These kinds of conversations need to change. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, telling ourselves we are less than them because we wear a bigger size, or lamenting an itty bitty belly flab, we should be speaking positively about our bodies!  Everybody is completely unique, and that’s why they’re so beautiful. Instead of saying “her thighs are the size of my arms, I’m so fat,” we should say “wow, she looks amazing in those shorts. And I look amazing in mine.”  We should compliment each other. If you have something nice to say about someone, tell them! That girl you used to hate because you wish you could be as hot as her? Tell her she looks amazing, maybe she secretly hated you for the same reason. And most importantly, we should never put ourselves down. Pinch that inch and say, how beautiful am I? I have this soft spot, right here. I love my belly, and I love that I can pinch it; because to me, soft is beautiful. If you don’t have an inch to pinch, look at those abs and say, wow, how beautiful am I? To me, muscles are beautiful. No matter what you look like, you should always say “I’m so lucky to be living my life in this beautiful, one-of-a-kind body.”

If you could tell every girl in the world one thing you have learned from your experience as a model, what would it be?

There is some truth in that meme that keeps popping up on Facebook and Instagram, always printed on a picture of someone who looks like they just couldn’t care less: “haters gonna hate.” If you’re doing something right, someone is going to hate you for it. Jealousy is the absolute ugliest emotion, but unfortunately, it’s rampant in our society. So when someone calls you fat, or stupid, or dorky, or anything, just remember, they are only lashing out at you because you have something they lack, and they’re insecure about it. I know people probably tell you this all the time and you don’t believe them, but please trust me, I’ve learned this from experience many times. Also, don’t let your friends put themselves down, and don’t let other people put you down. If someone tries to tell you you’re not good enough, for any reason, stand up for yourself. Tell that person that their opinion of you is not what you’re looking for. You are the only person you should be trying to impress. Be hard to impress. Then, when you meet your own high standards, you’ll have everyone around you impressed before you know it.

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2 Responses to “Role Model: An interview with Jennie Runk”

  1. [...] When I interviewed Jennie Runk over the summer about her phenomenol campaign with H&M, I was lit up with excitement about the future of plus-size representation in the modelling industry.  Here at SPARK we’re not only dismayed but horrified by the body-shaming girls face everyday, and it’s our mission to try and encouraged positive body imagery for everyone.  That’s why the H&M campaign is so important to us – because it’s important for everyone, everywhere, of every shape and size. [...]

  2. [...] Twitter hashtag #TYFA, or Twitter youth feminist army, is one of the handful of British members of Spark, a US youth-based activist movement, which this week launched a petition to encourage retailer [...]

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