It was such a pleasure getting to speak with such an inspiring and empowering woman like Jennie Runk. Jennie and I chatted about all things modeling, her early life, and the impact she’s made/had on the LGBTQ Community.
Keep scrolling to read our exclusive chat, and be sure to keep up with Jennie on Instagram here. Thank you to Jennie and her amazing PR for being so kind and doing this for my blog, I adore you! xox
David: Hey Jennie! I am so excited to be talking with you, how have you been?
Jennie: Great — It’s been a busy and exciting year for me! I acted in a play this summer, which was my first time on stage in years. Performing is something I’ve always loved, but I took a break when I dove into my career. It feels really good to get back into it. I also recently performed an original story for Generation Women, which showcases stories from women of all ages, based on a different theme each month. I’ve really been enjoying this new journey– branching out and working on projects I’m passionate about in addition to modeling.
David: Can you tell me a bit about your start in the modeling industry?
Jennie: I got discovered when I was 13, while volunteering at a Petsmart in the suburbs of St. Louis. At first, I said no thank you. I think my exact words were, “I’m so much more than a face and a body, why would I want to be a model?” My mom explained to me that a successful modeling career can lead to opportunities later in life. 16 years later, I’m still modeling, and have grown to really love it. The best part of my career has been the countless opportunities I have had to grow my platform and speak to what I believe in.
David: Your H&M campaign back in 2013 went viral, that must’ve been so surreal and awesome for you! What was it like getting so much support and positive feedback?
Jennie: It was very strange! I remember when I did that shoot, it was just another day at work for me. I didn’t think anything of it because I shoot swimwear all the time. I had no idea that I was the first plus size model to shoot bikinis for H&M — I only found that out when people started reporting on it! It was a validating moment. As someone who’s been pushing for body positivity and inclusion throughout my career, I was so excited to see that people all over the world were on board with a size 14 swimsuit model shot for a major brand. I was like, “YES, we’re making real progress here!”
David: In your industry, your considered to be a “plus size” model. I’ve never really liked that label, because I consider everyone in the modeling industry to be equal…just “models.” What’s your opinion on the term “plus size”?
Jennie: I’m a strong advocate for keeping the term. The problem isn’t with the word itself, but the negative connotations attached to it. Erasing the word from fashion erases the space we’ve fought so hard to create for body size diversity in fashion. I’m not just a model, I’m a plus size model. I’m a size 14, my thighs touch, my stomach isn’t flat and my bust and hip measurements are proportionally much larger than my waist. Opportunities available to straight size models are not as readily available to me because of my size. I am different from my straight size model friends, and that’s awesome. Our media needs diversity in terms of size, gender, race, religion, age, and ability. Everybody deserves to feel seen and represented, so we should have different kinds of models.
David: You and I both came out as gay in our teen years, and that can be a difficult thing to do. I relate so much to being in such a small town and not having really any other LGBTQ people to relate/talk to. What was it like for you personally to come out at such a young age?
Jennie: I knew from the moment I discovered that I liked kissing girls that I would need to come out of the closet. I hated the idea of not being true to myself. It was terrifying, being in a fairly conservative place, because I didn’t know how my friends and family would respond. I had done research, I had read so many stories of queer kids and teens being kicked out of their homes and abandoned by their friends after coming out. I thought my life would end, and in a way, it did. Straight Jennie ceased to exist, and a much happier, totally queer version of myself took her place. Looking back, a few of my friends did fade from my life after I came out, but it’s not something I noticed at the time. My closest friends stuck around, and I made so many new friends from joining my school’s GSA and reaching out more to the LGBTQIA community.
David: From my experience, some of my family had a difficult time with me coming out as gay. How did you manage to tell your family, and was it difficult for you?
Jennie: Coming out to my parents was really hard. I had never heard them talk about queer people, so I had no idea if they had any opinions about it at all. I’m an anxious person, so of course I feared the worst, but they ended up being super supportive.
David: I find it so courageous and inspiring that you aren’t afraid to talk about your sexuality. How do you cope with negative people if they aren’t accepting what you are doing and/or saying?
Jennie: I just don’t listen! I’m not for everyone, and I’ve long since made peace with that. The best anyone can do is be true to themselves, and the right people will love you for it.
David: I graduated high school this past June and was so happy to leave it behind because of all the hate I use to receive on a daily basis from my peers for being gay. It was so hard for me to go to school every day because I never knew what others would do or say to me. Did you deal with negative people like that when you were in school as well?
Jennie: Oh, for sure. I wasn’t just queer, I was also a full-on weirdo! I was captain of the improvisation theater team at my school, so I was both eccentric and dramatic. I was also the kid who would read novels in the hallways, while walking to my next class. My friends and I used to play out Star Wars scenes and impersonate dinosaurs in public. Obviously, I got bullied. There were many times I came home from school and spent most of the evening crying; teenagers can be really cruel to each other. But I had my handful of close friends and fellow weirdos, we always had fun together and supported each other. I’m still close friends with them today!
David: The hate and opinions of others got to me really bad throughout high school, I developed an eating disorder and wanted to take my own life. I eventually ended up getting help, but still have my days where I feel down or upset about myself. I know that might seem like a lot to share to some people, but I share my story and experiences in hopes to help others who are feeling the same as I did. What are some things you do to make sure you stay happy and show love to yourself?
Jennie: As a teenager, it’s almost impossible not to let the mean words and actions of others get to you. The one thing that kept me going was reminding myself that eventually, I’ll be out of high school, and I could go on to create my own social circles.
I went to school at Stephens College, in Columbia, MO. It’s a women’s liberal arts school in an artistic little college town. The first thing I did when I arrived was sign up for the local feminist club and wander into the one shop downtown with a pride flag hanging outside the door. By seeking out my communities, I was able to surround myself with the right people, many of whom became close friends and who I’m still in touch with today. Once you get through high school, your whole world opens up and you can choose who to let into your life and who to stay away from. It really does get better.
David: A lot of people find it strange that boys and men can also develop eating disorders or have self image issues. For me, it’s still a daily struggle with the way I look or how something fits. I know that you have spoke about past insecurities that you dealt with, so how did you deal with that and do you still deal with some?
Jennie: For me, the best way to deal with insecurities is to remind myself that they’re never as noticeable to others as they are to you. Chances are, whatever you’re feeling insecure about seems huge to you, but others don’t even see it! The people you surround yourself with are in your life for a reason — they like you. They aren’t concerned with what size you wear or if you’re having a breakout. We’re all so much more than our outward appearance, and it isn’t fair to yourself to forget that.
David: You are such a beautiful woman, and I’m not just saying that! Is there a typical meal plan you follow? For instance, what is your usual breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack look like?
Jennie: Well, I am a vegetarian, but aside from that, I don’t really stick to a diet. My partner is actually much more health conscious than I am, and she’s a great cook. When we’re together, I eat pretty healthy because that’s what she makes! When she’s out of town for work, or when I’m traveling, I eat whatever’s easiest, because I’m actually a disaster in the kitchen. My biggest rule for myself is not to villainize anything, but also not to overindulge. So if I want ice cream, I’m going to have it, just not the whole tub. I do have a weakness though. I literally can’t stop myself from finishing off a package of Oreos, so I don’t keep them in the apartment!
David: I hate working out so much, but I really want to get into doing it! What are some of your favorite and effective work out/exercise routines to do?
Jennie: I hate working out too! The only workout I enjoy is lap swimming, so I stick to that if I go to the gym. Otherwise, I consider living in New York City enough of a workout — you can’t get anywhere here without doing a lot of walking!
David: I follow you on Instagram and live for the pictures of you and your wife, they make me smile so big!! She seems like such a supporting and caring person, what does she think of all the great work that you have done thus far in your career?
Jennie: She’s my biggest cheerleader, sometimes she gets more excited about my opportunities than I do! She supports all of the career decisions I make, and will talk through anything with me, from which shoots I want to prioritize to which Instagram caption is better. Honestly, she helped me realize my worth.
Years ago, I used to shoot regularly with a client whose crew made me uncomfortable. The styling team was rough on my hair and skin, and the photographer would constantly hit on me. Because it was a regular client and provided steady money, I had qualms about dropping them. But my partner told me, “You’re better than that. You absolutely do not need to put up with that, and you have every right to speak up about it.” So I did, and the client re-booked me with a different crew! If it weren’t for her encouragement, I likely would have just tolerated it for who knows how long. I’m definitely a stronger woman as a direct result of her unwavering support and encouragement.
David: Like I said before, you’re such an inspiration. Is there anything you hope to accomplish personal and professional wise in the next five years or so?
Jennie: I hope to continue modeling and serving as an advocate for the LGBTQ community. Aside from that, I want to get back into acting or some form of performance. I used to be very active in theater when I was a teenager, so I’m taking almost every performance opportunity I can get right now, because it’s something I really enjoy doing and I want to make time for. I set a goal for myself to eventually act in a movie or TV series, and I’m looking forward to seeing how far I can go!