Categorized | Sex & Health

Defining plus-sized: Ralph Lauren’s recent hire of Robin Lawley brings up body image

One designer’s recent decision to hire a plus-sized model has sparked talk among students about their opinions on body image. Although she has landed the covers of Vogue Italia and French Elle, it’s not her beauty that’s making headlines—it’s her size 12 figure.

 Many female MSU students are backing American designer Ralph Lauren’s recent decision to hire Robin Lawley, the first plus-sized model in the company’s history.

The 6-foot-2, Australian-born beauty has taken the fashion world by storm. Earlier this year, the 23-year-old shot American designer’s ad campaign Boux Avenue, a British line of lingerie for women with curves.

In the opinions of some, hiring the model may be a strategic choice by designers.

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Robyn Lawley, photo courtesy of http://www.facebook.com/RobynLawleyPlusSizeModel

Lauren Dale, co-editor-in-chief of VIM magazine, a student-run fashion magazine at MSU, said designers choose models based on their design aesthetic.

“Designers like Ralph Lauren have an all-American aesthetic in mind. So perhaps incorporating a model that has the all-American look—whether that is plus-sized or a thinner frame—if that’s his vision, he is going to put it on plus-sized (models),” Dale said.

As far as choosing models that are not plus-sized, Diana Douglas, co-editor-in-chief of VIM magazine, believes it comes down to one thing: the clothes.

“Clothes look better on a taller and slender women,” she said. “Designers want to represent their clothes in the way they look best.”

Douglas said she believes there’s a common misconception that designers encourage women to be model-thin.

“They’re not trying to say, ‘you have to be this woman.’ And I think that, lot of the time, that’s what media makes it sound like,” she said.

And although it sends an unhealthy message to young women, Douglas said designers sometimes do take it too far.

“You look at a model on the runway and she looks like she’s about to collapse… sometimes [designers] take it to that extreme,” she said. “Being healthy is what it is all about.”

Kinesiology senior Katie Begley feels that in a society where social media’s negative message of health and beauty are so strongly reinforced, people are led to believe that the two are one-dimensional.

“Some people believe that you have to be thin if you want to be healthy, or it’s not attractive to be overweight,” said Begley.

Begley is the student health advocate of Spartan Body Pride, or SBP, an MSU organization affiliated with the Student Health Center. They are a group of students that promote ideas alternative to social media’s portrayal of beauty.

Begley said it’s hard to get through to some people, but she and the members of SBP are trying to communicate that thin isn’t the only thing that’s beautiful, which may be why she said she doesn’t understand why Ralph Lauren’s decision has drawn so much media attention.

“I think it’s great that they’re hiring larger models, but all of the focus on it just threw me off a little bit. Do you need to have all of that (press) because she’s a size 12?” Begley said.

In Begley’s opinion, size 12 is the average size of an American woman.

Photo credit: Julia Grippe

In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, Lawley said she believes that she is “what most women look like,” when it comes to sizes.

“That’s generally the average (size) of American [women], a size 12, so that’s my size,” she said.

Pre-med and neuroscience student Rachel Conklin agrees with the model. She said she believes that a size 12 is within the range of the average American women. She said she supports Ralph Lauren’s decision and hopes it sparks change in fashion industry.

“I think that’s a great decision,” she said. “I’ve thought for a while that companies should start making (ad campaigns) more realistic.”

Conklin believes hiring Lawley was a smart business move on Ralph Lauren’s part.

“To me, a plus-size model isn’t even a large women. It doesn’t mean your fat. I think a lot more people will find that ad campaign more relatable,” she said.

Conklin added that more realistic models could lead to higher self-esteem for young girls.

“At this point, they are already getting pressured from an incredibly young age with a Barbie doll to grow up and look a certain way,” she said.

According to registered dietitian and Olin Health Center nutritionist Ronda Bokram, the issue of body image also affects college women.

“Body image in college women is indeed affected by this message that being smaller is better,” Bokram said. She said rather than fight to be thin, people need to realize that they can be healthy at any size.

As a nutritionist, Bokram said she doesn’t provide or support diets for anyone. Instead she practices and teaches “intuitive eating, not food restriction.”

“I believe and teach all foods are okay, they are just different and encourage giving oneself permission to eat,” she said.

To Bokram, it’s not only important to understand your personal role in the issue, but it’s also important to understand the role of a culture.

“I talk about challenging the culture. I always remember a quote from a speaker at a conference I went to: ‘When we blame the culture, we are blaming ourselves, as we are the culture,’” she said.

Although Bokram said she believes that the media alters the way college women perceive body image, ultimately body image has to do with how they see themselves.

“Body image is how we see ourselves in our mind, not how we actually look in the mirror,” Bokram said.

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