Tue, Dec-05-06, 03:40
An interesting interview with the lady herself, Jen Hunter:
Curve appeal: Jen Hunter on body image
The Daily Mail
Published 4 Deember, 2006
In a revealing interview, Jen Hunter, size 12 (US size 10) star of TV's Make Me A Supermodel, talks exclusively to LIZ JONES about body image, bullying and being a mum
Jen Hunter looks ravishing in this
red coat dress from Belville Sassoon
When Jen Hunter – possibly the most famous size 12 (US size 10) in Britain, and certainly in possession of the milkiest, most voluptuous thighs in the western hemisphere -- arrives at the studio in West London for our shoot, she is wearing full make-up, her hair has been freshly washed, and she is in a bright red sweater dress and chunky boots.
She is also incredibly cheerful, despite having just got the train down from Wigan and caught the Tube during rush hour, when “no one smiled or even looked at me; why is everyone so silent?”
She is a refreshing change from most models when they turn up for a shoot: monosyllabic, with greasy, bed-head hair and the previous night’s mascara smeared down their faces. But then, as anyone who has been riveted by Channel Five’s Make Me A Supermodel over the past couple of months will know, Jen is not like most models. Let’s get Jen’s vital statistics out of the way first, the reason she has been the subject of so much furious debate in the media, from which you might have deduced we would have had to have the studio floor reinforced, or the door widened. She is six foot tall, weighs “about 11 stone, but it varies”, and measures 34-27-38/9. She is, in fact, like most women in Britain: a bit pear shaped, a bit wobbly around the tummy, and with a spot of cellulite.
The big difference, of course, and the reason TV viewers voted for her in their tens of thousands – in the end, she was beaten only by male model Albert – is that Jen is stunningly beautiful. “Except I wasn’t made to feel beautiful,” she says, plonking herself down to have her face scrubbed, peering at her hair in the mirror, which she says was ruined on the programme by a Japanese straightening treatment and glued-in extensions. Is she devastated she didn’t win?
“I was pleased Albert won, because you know it won’t go to his head, but there were so many beautiful people around me who were told they fit the supermodel bracket, and I was always being told I didn’t, so I was amazed I got as far as I did. But I was made to feel like a freak.” If anyone was a freak it was judge Rachel Hunter, who sported weirdly stiff hair seemingly made of straw, and a bitter expression. “I didn’t appreciate it when she said to me that she has struggled with her weight for 20 years and I should do the same. If you have to kill yourself for a job you have to think, is it worth it?”
Jen says she doesn’t want her two-year-old daugher, Kairah, who has inherited her mother’s lips (like Angelina Jolie’s) and heart-shaped face, and her father, Devlin’s, long black eyelashes, to grow up with a mum who is “Always obsessing over how she looks, or who is short with her because she hasn’t eaten,” she says.
“Even though I was bullied at school for being fat and for being ugly and for being tall – I was six foot by the time I was 15 - I knew there was nothing wrong with me because my mum is stunning, and she is the same shape as I am.” Although Jen was told off for her lack of commitment to exercise on the show, she maintains she’s healthy. Her normal routine is to go to the gym a couple of times a week, take her daughter swimming, and walk her gran’s dog. “It has been written in the press that I like chips and pies, but I really don’t. I hate crisps. I like chicken and lots of vegetables, and perhaps some potato wedges.
I might be bigger than the fashion industry demands, but it’s just not natural for me to be a size 10. I must have a slow metabolism or something.”
I tell her she was brave to walk down a catwalk in front of millions of viewers in only a bikini. “I was hoping to be voted off the show before that point,” she grins.
The viewers who voted for Jen obviously preferred her shape to that of the only other female finalist, Marianne Berglund, even if the panel – made up of Hunter, GQ editor Dylan Jones, Tandy Anderson, managing director of Select Model Management, and photographer Perou – did not.
“You look so beautiful,” Anderson had gushed to Marianne, when anyone sane would have told her, “Your hips bones and ribs are protruding through that dress; go and eat a peanut butter sandwich.” But Jen refuses to criticise her rival. “She is what the fashion industry wants. When I asked why it is that models have to be one size, I was told that it’s because designers only make clothes that are sample size - an eight or below - and that most of the buyers are from Asia, where women are small.
Those are the lamest excuses I’ve ever heard. Can you imagine if you worked with someone with a bit of shape how magnificent they can make an outfit look? Real women would think to themselves, 'yeah, I can wear that.'”
She says what worried her most when she left the show was that the industry would punish her for being so outspoken. Has she been snapped up by Marie Claire for its next cover? “Um, no,” she says, creasing that lovely face. “I don’t have an agent. I haven’t been offered anything by the glossies. But I would never turn my back on what I said, I believe it with a passion. I’m glad I’ve got a bit of junk in my trunk."
Although Jen was working in Flares nightclub in Wigan before she went on the show, she had done a bit of part-time modelling before, just small, local jobs. She had been signed aged 22 by the Manchester branch of Boss models after winning a competition in a local paper. Did they tell you to lose weight?
“I had just had my daughter and so because I was running around after her I dropped to a size 10. But they still said I needed to be more toned and to lose a few inches. I didn’t have enough time to be at the bar, be a full-time mum and do loads of working out, so I was like, ‘This is me’, and they were great about it. But I was always the biggest girl on their books.” So why put herself through another competition? “I was chatting to my best friend and she said, you could go for it, or wonder every day of your life what might have been. I thought, my marriage has split up, I am on my own now, it could be a fantastic opportunity for me and my daughter.”
She says the most difficult part of the whole experience wasn’t being told she was “chunky”, but leaving her little girl. “I’ve never ever experienced heartache like it,” she says. “I hadn’t prepared myself for leaving her as I didn’t think I’d be in for the whole six weeks. I kicked off big style when they wouldn’t let me contact her.
I said, you are messing with a two year old’s head, and so I was allowed one phone call to her the next day, and another two days before the end, when I was at a low point, missing her, receiving criticism. Even though I was proud of myself it was overwhelming. Each phone call was only 10 minutes long, but she was fine. She was with her godmother and my mum and my gran and my cousin.”
Kairah didn’t recognise her mum when she did, finally, get home, what with the straight hair. “She had to sit on my lap for hours, with me talking softly to her, before it finally sunk in that it really was her mummy,” she says. “I only got her to sleep in her own bed last night,” she says, the reason for the dark bags under her eyes.
It breaks Jen’s heart that Kairah’s father is no longer around to “hear Kairah’s deep, throaty laugh - she has such a great sense of humour”. The couple are going through a divorce, and I ask whether Devlin is happy for her now that she is famous. “Nah,” she says. “He hasn’t spoken to me. He hasn’t seen his daughter since last Christmas Eve.” Not once?
“I begged and pleaded for him to see her on Christmas Day. I got a letter from his solicitor saying he wanted to see Kairah on Saturdays, and so I wrote back saying that was fine, but could it be at my nan’s house because Kairah wouldn’t know who he was at first, and they wrote back saying, of course he can’t visit her on a Saturday, he works in the pub industry!”
She says he contributes nothing financially. How on earth does she manage? “It is hard, I have to budget to the last penny. I get child support and help with childcare costs, and that’s it.” The best part about being on the show was dressing up in the beautiful, expensive clothes. “Of course I absolutely love Primark, I get most of my clothes there,” she says, “but not Kairah’s. I spend a lot on her clothes. This sweater dress is from a catalogue.”
Jen has always been independent, and was brought up to have a strong Irish work ethic. “I was diagnosed as dyslexic when I was eight, so I had to battle with that, but it meant I put more effort in. I still got 10 GCSEs.”
She left home at 16 to live with her nan so that she could study NVQs at college in Wigan, got a job in the Royal Bank of Scotland but almost died from boredom, and worked for a while in the bars of Ayia Napa. She now has her own little terraced house, “with a yard front and rear”, which she has made really cosy for the two of them. She had met Devlin when she was 20 and he was 35 - she says she goes for older men, and wanted someone “not to look after me, but who would do what he said he would without having to be asked five times”. He was her boss at the club, and “there was a spark, we fell in love”. But then it was over before it was over. “He was working away, we were arguing. I didn’t want to bring Kairah up in that environment. My parents divorced when I was six, so I can see it from a child’s point of view.”
They separated, and she found out he had been cheating on her while they were still together. “I had been hearing on the grapevine that he was cheating, but I trusted him -- when you have just got a new baby you don’t want to believe someone is cheating on you.
But then I found I was speaking to the other woman’s best friend. She said, ‘My friend just got engaged to the manager of Flares.’ I don’t know how I held it together, but I managed to say, ‘Doesn’t he have a wife and child?’ She said, ‘She knows that and says she’s not bothered. He’s met her mum and they’ve been on holiday together.’”
Jen sobbed to her mum that she will have been married, had a child and got divorced before she is 25 years old; the age most models have been put out to grass, of course, but far too young to have been through such heartache. “And she said, ‘Well Jen, it’s good to get all the s*** out the way early on.’”
Her mother works as a manager for a catalogue company, her dad for the local council. They remarried, and so Jen has two half-sisters aged 11 and nine, and a little half-brother of seven months old on her dad’s side. Does she have a good relationship with her father? “They are better parents apart than they were together. My main influence growing up was my mum and my nan, they were both such strong women.”
Does she have a boyfriend? She laughs. “The fact I am so tall puts men off. Even Luke, who came second in the competition, would say I’m too tall; he said, ‘Men like to put an arm around a woman.’ The best chat-up line a bloke could use on me would be, By ‘eck love, you’re tall. But they never chat me up. I do sit at home and wonder, am I ever going to fall in love ever again?”
Does she still want to be a model? She screws up her tiny nose. “I would love to be a Bond girl. As a little girl I would pose in the mirror holding me ‘urbrush as a gun. Mum put towels over the mirrors because I posed in front of them so much.”
She now routinely gets stopped on the streets of Wigan. “I was walking through town and a girl said, you are not as big as they made you look on telly, so I was flattered. I walk tall, I don’t stoop. I have been slimmer and I have been bigger, and I don’t see how what weight I am defines the type of person I am. I am never going to be a size 10 (US size 8) again. But I think I can live with that.”