Polo Ralph Lauren is doing its part to alter the media’s unrealistic representation of the female body. Or, at least it wants you to think so.
The apparel empire has hired Robyn Lawley, a 23-year-old plus-sized model, to appear in its ads. The 6’2 stunner, who allegedly wears a size 12, is the first full-figured model hired by the brand.
“I was really stoked and really happy that they’re continuing to work with me,” Lawley told the Daily Beast in an interview. “It’s a huge deal for print models to work with a big designer.”
Lawley also told the site that she was once preoccupied with dieting but has learned to accept her body.
“…I am much happier than I have been in years because I stopped dieting, but it still took a few years for me to really love my body,” she said.
The model is the moderator of Robyn Lawley Eats, a Tumblr where she posts professional looking photos of delicious --often fattening --foods, apropos of nothing, and with very little commentary. Presumably the message is that you can eat like a human and still be a model, but there is no evidence that Lawley actually does eat any of the food as the blog’s title suggests.
There is no doubt Lawley has a lovely body (and face, and hair), but based on recently released photos of her lingerie campaign, it’s hard to accept the fact that she is considered plus-sized – or that she is actually a size 12. (Which, for the record, is not carried by top plus size retailers, such as Lane Bryant and Avenue, which sells clothing ranging from size 14 and above.)
In the fashion world, however, models above a size 6 fall into that category.
In the Sept. 2009 issue of Glamour, writer Genevieve Field explained that models unable to fit into samples clothing (which usually ranges from sizes 0-4 but sometimes go up to size 6) are considered plus-sized. That’s unsettling when you consider the fact that, according to the Los Angeles Times, the average American women wears a size 14.
Whether or not you agree that Lawley is really “plus-sized,” Ralph Lauren’s image will likely benefit from having even a slightly fuller figured model as the face of a campaign.
In Sept. 2009, the brand came under fire after releasing a photoshopped ad featuring Filippa Hamilton. The shocking image showed Hamilton, who’s a size 4, looking gaunt and otherworldly.
The Blue Label jeans ad spurred outrage. Several blogs and outlets commented on the unrealistic image.
The photo was featured on the site Photoshop Disasters, which compiles poorly doctored images, magazine covers, and advertisements.
The Los Angeles Times referred to the ad as an example of “digital anorexia.”
Boeing Boeing also posted the photo with the caption, “Dude, her head's bigger than her pelvis.”
Ralph Lauren threatened to file a lawsuit against the site—claiming that they used the photo illegally. Yet the site’s editor, Cory Doctorow, insisted on leaving the ad up (citing the Fair Use Act) and posted a message for the company.
"Copyright law doesn't give you the right to threaten your critics for pointing out the problems with your offerings,” said Doctorow. “You should know better. And every time you threaten to sue us over stuff like this, we will:
a) Reproduce the original criticism, making damned sure that all our readers get a good, long look at it, and;
b) Publish your spurious legal threat along with copious mockery, so that it becomes highly ranked in search engines where other people you threaten can find it and take heart; and
c) Offer nourishing soup and sandwiches to your models."
In response to the negative publicity, a spokesperson for Ralph Lauren issued an apology—which was published by the Daily Mail.
“For over 42 years, we have built a brand based on quality and integrity. After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman's body.
“We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the caliber of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.”
Yet just a week later, The Daily News reported that Hamilton was fired by the company.
In a candid interview with the outlet, she revealed, "They fired me because they said I was overweight and I couldn't fit in their clothes anymore.”
Hamilton also commented on the horrifically transformed image of herself that was used in the controversial ad.
"I was shocked to see that super skinny girl with my face," she said. "It's very sad, I think, that Ralph Lauren could do something like that."
The company quickly released a statement claiming that the decision to fire the 120-pound beauty had nothing to do with her weight but rather “her inability to meet the obligations under her contract with us."
Remarkably, three years later, it seems that Ralph Lauren is capitalizing on the growing demand for plus sized models.
In a Feb. 2011 New York Magazine article, “The Rise of the Plus Sized Model,” Amy Odell notes that two top modeling agencies, Ford and Wilhelmina (which represents Lawley) have burgeoning plus sized divisions. This has allowed full-figured models—such as Crystal Renn, Alyona Osmanova, and Gitte Lill—to book major ad campaigns and runway shows for top name designers.
It remains to be seen whether the Ralph Lauren’s decision and the upsurge of plus-sized models will spark a trend in the fashion world or if the industry will continue to be just as weight obsessed as it’s always been.