If This Model is "Plus-Sized," Then the Fashion World Has Lost Its Mind

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As Fashion Week in New York City kicks off, let us not forget the important contributions of members of the fashion world from around the world. For example, Robyn Lawley's tale of success is an interesting rags-to-riches story: coming from a working class Australian family and having had some form of employment since age 13, she now has her own fashion line, a book deal, and cooking show in her native country.

But why haven't we heard her name around? It is because she is not considered, in the fashion world, as a "straight model." The 6'2" model is a U.S. size 14, making her "plus-sized." Actually, Robyn Lawley is closer to the size of the average woman than current megamodel Cara Delevigne. However, instead of disappearing into the shadows, Lawley has decided to address the weight problem currently facing the fashion world. In June 2011, Lawley, Tara Lynn, and Candice Huffine became the first "plus-sized" models to be featured on the cover of any Vogue magazine. Lawley is continuing that conversation, in the hopes that more diversity will follow.

Lawley was not always a plus-sized model. She had started her career as a "straight" model, but the type of weight she was expected to maintain became unrealistic for her. After an art director recommended an agency that works with larger models — meaning anyone over a size 10 — it wasn't difficult for Lawley to find work there.

She admits that at first she was more concerned about her career than equality, but her comments about being frustrated that "no one there knew what to do with [models our size]" after the Vogue shoot helped to shape the start of a revolution in the fashion industry. Since that incident, Lawley has been booked by more straight-size fashion clients this past year than ever before.

This humble supermodel understands the difficulty of average sized women, and notes the "dishonesty" of the fashion industry by saying, "I feel terrible for the size [U.K.] 22s, 24s, who never see a woman in the public eye who represents their size, or modelling the clothes they're being asked to buy." She has designed swimwear for larger sizes (sizes 12-24 and expected to go larger) to ensure that average and plus-sized women are able to fit into swimsuits and look nice. However, she believes that she is starting the right steps to change that. In addition to being inclusive of average-sized women, Lawley speaks to diversity on the ramp. Seeing young, thin, white girls walking the runways doesn't seem to be enough; she hopes for a range of ages and ethnicities to better connect to the fashion audience. 

She knows there is still a long way to go. She gets paid less than a straight model. Lawley attributes this to the, "Oh, she won't expect as much money," mindset prevailing in the industry, but hopes to change this over time as well.

Another challenge she has noticed is that there are very few straight models that are representative of young shoppers at locations such as Topshop in London. She stresses the importance of young women feeling represented, and most importantly, normal. 

Lawley hopes to create a fashion world that is inclusive not only of larger sizes, but also of those who are on the skinnier side. "Skinny is ugly" is a negative approach, isolating women who have smaller frames and weights. According to Lawley, all of this emphasis on weight is distracting from what we should be focusing on, such as issues of unequal pay and opportunity, or attributes such as intellect and strength.

I hope that all of Lawley's efforts will pay off, allowing for young women of all shapes, colors, and sizes to feel confident about their clothes and their bodies. 

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Anjana Sreedhar

Anjana is a passionate NYU student studying International Relations and Gender and Sexuality. She is also a PolicyMic writing intern who enjoys following the news and hopes to work in international development, particularly improving reproductive health of women and girls. When not studying, working, or researching, you'll find her editing for the NYU Journal of Politics and International Affairs, writing for NYU Generasian and Washington Square News, or watching Downton Abbey with a cup of masala chai.

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