Welcome to Talking Body, a new series where we have honest conversations with women about their bodies. Up this week: Jennie Runk, an American model who has appeared in campaigns and lookbooks for H&M, Lane Bryant, and Marina Rinaldi. She started modeling as a teen when she was "in-between" straight-sized and plus-sized and decided to actually gain weight to model plus. Here, Runk talks about positive self-talk, building confidence, and why she doesn’t stress about working out.
I was discovered when I was 13 when I was volunteering at the Open Door Animal Sanctuary at the local PetSmart in my hometown of Chesterfield, Missouri. I was helping with a little fundraising event and Mary Clarke from Mother Model Management came in to buy dog food and happened to spot me. Initially I didn’t want to do it. I was like, ‘Ew. No. I’m so much more than a face and a body. I’m not going to model, that sounds so lame.’ I was not into it at all. But my mom talked me into it because I was into acting and never knew what kind of opportunities modeling could lead to. 13 years, later, and I’m still doing it.
Words I would use to describe my own body would be tall, beautiful, mine, one-of-a-kind, unique, and perfect. I feel like everyone should be able to talk about their body and only have positive things to say. A lot of times when women talk about their bodies it’s so negative and it’s always comparing it to other people. We need to change the conversation.
Even from a really young age, my mom was always telling me, ‘You can do whatever you want. You really don’t need to worry about what anyone else thinks about what you’re doing or what you look like.’ I’m not even really one to be overly proud of a shoot or the way that I look because I feel the way that I look just happens to be the way that I look. I didn’t do anything to have this face. It didn’t take any effort on my part.
There were times when I was younger, however, when I used to be super insecure because everyone I knew was shorter and smaller than me. And they’d say ‘I need to go on a diet, I need to lose weight,’ and I was thinking, if they’re calling themselves fat, what does that make me? That type of language doesn’t help anyone. It took a long time for me to get to a place where I look at myself and I’m like, ‘I’m amazing. My body is amazing, and I’m hot.’ You just have to get past that.
I feel like everyone should be able to talk about their body and only have positive things to say.
Some of that confidence was built by spending time on stage–I did children’s theatre at the YMCA and I was captain of my high school’s improvisational theatre team. I think that spending so much time on stage in front of people really helped me learn that mindset: If I’m saying something funny and I’m giving a really good performance, nobody cares what I look like! When you really think about it, being worried about your thighs touching or being worried about a little muffin top or something, is so small. Nobody sees those things.
I recently spoke with girl scouts in Hudson, New York, where I taught a class on body positivity and we talked a little bit about Instagram. A lot of them were saying, ‘Because I follow a lot of fashion accounts, when I’m looking at my Instagram all I see are really skinny people with flat stomachs and really skinny legs and I’m wondering why I don’t look like that.’ And I was thinking, you know, I should focus on Instagram. People are looking through their feed and seeing flat stomach after flat stomach after flat stomach…Let’s shake it up a little bit. I shared a photo of my stomach rolls honestly, because I was just sitting on my couch and my stomach was poking out and I was like "It’s kind of cute, actually! I kind of like it!" I think it’s important to show that that’s a thing that exists and it’s just as beautiful as a flat stomach.
It took me a long time for me to get to a place where I look at myself and I’m like, ‘I’m amazing. My body is amazing, and I’m hot.’
I don’t really think about "maintaining my figure" a whole lot, to be honest. Obviously, I’m not eating junk food all day every day, and especially when the weather’s nicer, I go to walks in the park with my fiancée, and her sister, and our niece. I take my cat for walks in the park. With models’ schedules, we’re traveling a lot, and then we come home, and sometimes we have random weekdays off with nothing to do. I don’t really stress about it. I feel like, I live in New York, I walk a lot of places, that’s enough of a workout for me. I do swim sometimes, occasionally, when I feel like. I feel like it’s just part of life. If I’m active, going out and doing things, then I’m fine.
Pretty much all the girls that I work with and everyone at my agency [JAG] inspire me. I just came from a casting where we were all in the office together, and it’s always such a positive experience. It’s just a big, happy family. We’re all totally comfortable in our bodies, we all look completely different, we’re all completely different shapes and sizes–6, 16, and everything in between. And every girl just seems totally happy with whatever they are. I wish we could get like every woman in the world to like spend a day with all of us, to absorb that positive energy, and then go spread it.