H&M Plus Size Model Jennie Runk Puts Unexpected Fame to Good Use

Plus-size fashion model Jennie Runk isn't just sitting pretty—she's using her fame to promote positive body image in an essay she penned Wednesday for the BBC News. In the editorial, she urges women to stop worrying about their thighs and feel comfortable in their skin no matter what type of body they have, touching on her own awkward teenage years.

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Runk rose to prominence in early May when she was selected by clothing retailer H&M to model their new swimsuit line on the company homepage. For the campaign, the 24-year-old 5'10 beauty, who wears a dress size 14-16, traipsed on a beach wearing bikinis and one-piece swimsuits. The seemingly innocent photo series sent shockwaves around the Internet. First, H&M has a history of featuring toned models (Gisele is the company’s latest cover girl, replacing a bikini-clad Beyonce) so selecting Runk, of normal, healthy proportions, to model their new line was a refreshing departure. And second, unlike many companies who bury plus-size selections deep within their websites, H&M never once mentioned the word “plus-size” on the same page as the images of Runk (you have to click on the clothing samples to land in the plus-size section). The company message was clear: “Our model isn’t stick thin—so what?”

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Runk concurs, writing, “I had no idea that my H&M beachwear campaign would receive so much publicity. I'm the quiet type who reads books, plays video games, and might be a little too obsessed with her cat.

"So, suddenly having a large amount of publicity was an awkward surprise at first. I found it strange that people made such a fuss about how my body looks in a bikini, since I don't usually give it much thought.

"When my Facebook fan page gained about 2,000 new likes in 24 hours, I decided to use the attention as an opportunity to make the world a little nicer by promoting confidence. I've since been receiving lots of messages from fans, expressing gratitude.”

Runk, who could not be reached for comment,  recalled “nightmare” gym classes filled with girls wearing cute shorts while she stuck out in bulky sweatpants as a self-described clumsy girl with thick, curly hair, braces, and glasses. She also spoke to that awkward period in every girl’s life when bodies start to develop differently, yet pressure mounts to achieve one body type. “This is an impossible goal to achieve and I wish I had known that when I was 13. At 5ft, 9in and a US size eight (usually either a UK 10 or 12), I envied the girls whose boyfriends could pick them up and carry them on their shoulders.”

On Wednesday, Runk excitedly tweeted, “My lifelong dream came true—published writer over here!” She has since been feeling the love for her essay. @marenabobino tweeted, “I am so obsessed with @jennierunk. Like I'm 10x more ok with me today because of her. Most gorgeous model EVER!” @lorenferguson wrote, “What a real woman looks like? Not only is she a beautiful model but also a role model for young girls.”

And that’s a title Runk will wear proudly. After being  discovered in 2000 while volunteering at PetSmart, she was given the option to either drop to a size 4 or gain weight to maintain a size 10 and become a plus-size model. “I knew my body was never meant to be a size four, so I went with plus,” she wrote.

And it’s a path she’s clearly thrilled to have taken, writing: “Some even told me that my confidence has inspired them to try on a bikini for the first time in years. This is exactly the kind of thing I've always wanted to accomplish, showing women that it's OK to be confident even if you're not the popular notion of 'perfect,'" and that having survived her childhood she feels “compelled to show girls who are going through the same thing that it's acceptable to be different. You will grow out of this awkwardness fabulously. Just focus on being the best possible version of yourself and quit worrying about your thighs, there's nothing wrong with them.”

One of Runk’s missions is to disassociate the word “fat” with plus-size, pointing out that women deemed plus-size actually reflect the American national average (a U.S. size 12/14), and she defends the idea of brands separating women into certain size categories. “Clothing companies do this in order to offer their customers exactly what they're looking for, making it easier for people of all sizes to find clothes that fit their bodies as well as their own unique stylistic expression,” she wrote. And she calls for people to stop labeling thin women “gangly or bony.”

“There's no need to glamorize one body type and slam another. We need to stop this absurd hatred towards bodies for being different sizes. It doesn't help anyone and it's getting old.”

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