It seems like just yesterday that Ralph Lauren was blasted for Photoshopping a model to appear emaciated, allegedly firing her for being too fat, and then apologizing for the gaffe.
But now, the brand has taken a step in the other direction: it has hired its first plus-size model, Robyn Lawley. She’s a stunning 23-year-old brunette who has been called a groundbreaker for appearing on the covers of French Elle and Vogue Italia. She stands at 6'2" and wears a size 12, and was hired by Ralph Lauren in April. (The brand has since hired her for another shoot in July, and she tells The Daily Beast that she’s scheduled for a third shoot for Ralph Lauren in Los Angeles next week.)
“I was really stoked and really happy that they’re continuing to work with me,” Lawley said by phone on Wednesday. “It’s a huge deal for print models to work with a big designer.” She says that she knew about the Photoshopping scandal when she signed up to work with the brand, but unsurprisingly, says she thought the brand made an honest mistake. You won’t, however, see Lawley’s face on the side of a bus anytime soon: according to her agent, the Ralph Lauren images will only be used for in-store advertising and PR purposes.
Thanks to her work with Ralph Lauren, Lawley has seen a flurry of press—she was recently featured in People magazine and appeared on Good Morning America on Wednesday. But with each interview, there comes an awkward moment. “How tall are you?” she was asked on Good Morning America.
“And do you mind telling me how much you weigh?”
“Well,” Lawley said, pausing, “I’m a size 12—and I don’t think weight really matters.” It was a halting start to an otherwise fluid interview.
We asked Lawley about it afterwards. “I was surprised,” she said of the weight question. “Sometimes models are likened to race horses. If I say my weight, people are going to target me, and they don’t know my BMI. I think it’s best not to include.”
It would seem that Lawley has made the jump into the second stage of her career—that challenging hurdle, particularly for plus-size models, to become mainstream. But she says she doesn’t want to be an anomaly in an otherwise skinny industry—and hopes that size diversity will really take hold across the board. “I think it’s amazing to see a plus-size model,” she says. “And it’s helping women to start accepting their bodies—to see a curvy girl embracing it rather than trying to hide it.”
When Lawley first became a model at age 16, she felt an extreme amount of pressure to diet. “It was such a battle for me to do that because I’m [so] big boned, and I’m tall and I’m broad,” she told GMA. “I really struggled to maintain that size.” She says that it wasn’t until she gave up modeling altogether, moved to France, and fell in love with food that she realized she could pursue a career as a plus-size model. (She's now signed with Wilhelmina Models.)
Now, she lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and runs a food blog—appropriately called Robyn Lawley Eats—which she calls her place for “food porn,” delicious photos and recipes she has cooked and found at local restaurants.
“I’m 23 now, and 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 says. “I think when you’re happy with your body, you’re happy in other areas.”