Australian Fashion Week

How Far Has Size Representation Really Come In Australia? A Model Veteran & Industry Up-&-Comer Discuss

The journey to true representation across the Australian fashion industry especially when it comes to size has been a long one, and it's far from over. To gain an understanding of what it's been like for size diverse women leading the charge for change, we asked veteran model veteran Robyn Lawley to sit with Gen Z model Jasmine O'Neill to compare their experiences of modelling in Australia and their opinion on how inclusive the industry is in 2022.
Content warning: This article discusses disordered eating in a way that some readers may find distressing. 

Jasmine O'Neill Interviewing Robyn Lawley

Robyn Lawley
Jasmine: What was the Australian fashion landscape like when you started modelling? 
Robyn: I started to model when I was about 14 years old, in 2005. I watched a lot of fashion TV growing up!

The Australian fashion landscape at the time was following the rest of the world and going down a dangerous path with designers limiting their fashion ranges to a certain size (usually size 12). The models they chose also represented body exclusivity. They would only be a size 8 or smaller, the thinner the better.  

Gemma Ward was the ‘It’ model of the time. And although Gemma is gorgeous – I am a big fan – her body was drastically different to mine, and she was all the rage all over the world. 
Jasmine: What were the biggest challenges you faced back then and has anything changed? 
Robyn: Acceptance. I did not see my body represented anywhere – I held my body accountable instead of the designers making the clothes. 

When I was a young model, I unfortunately had begun to starve my body and dieted in an unhealthy manner just to fit the size the industry was after. 

Eventually, Australian fashion brands began to include more sizes (12, 14, 16 etc.) finally going beyond a 12, and in 2008 I first heard the words "stay exactly as you are" from my manager and new agency. I felt a profound sense of relief to no longer try to fit a size I could never actually fit into in the first place.
Jasmine: What is your take on the term plus-size? 
Robyn: It was initially created because the fashion world refused to extend their size offerings, and we [plus-size models] would only be able to model brands that would start from a 12 and go up.
I don’t see the necessity of labels such as 'plus' or 'straight' as it creates a division and promotes body hate. 
As much as I don’t like labels, they do exist and have an impact, so I don’t want young girls thinking they need to change or mould themselves to be a certain size. They should always be thinking about their health first.
Jasmine: What was the diet culture like when you started out? 
Robyn: It was very present and toxic for me as a teenager. Counting calories, fasting, eliminating everything… It was such a relief when my manager told me not to change my body.
Over the years, I’ve learned what you eat does really matter for your health, however, size is not indicative of health.
My current diet literally saves my life – I keep my lupus and APS in remission through my diet. I am vegan and I eat a certain amount of cruciferous vegetables a day, as well as foods high in omega 3 such as flaxseeds or chia. 
Jasmine: When did you start to notice a shift to more inclusive representation on runways and in fashion media? 
Robyn: It was gradual and has been happening over many years. When I signed, model Crystal Renn did a runway for Jean-Paul Gaultier – that moment helped push more body diversity in the high fashion world by showcasing that a model over a size 8 could be on the runway. It helped my own personal headspace too. 
Jasmine: What work still needs to be done? 
Robyn: The fashion and advertising world has come leaps and bounds over these past few years. I want it to continue, however, I want to see more ethnicities, more ages and always more sizes. 

Robyn Lawley Interviewing Jasmine O'Neill

Jasmine O'Neill
Robyn: What is your take on the term plus-size?
Jasmine: I worry about the term or the label. The term plus size is usually used for sizes outside the standard range. Calling size 10 or 12 models plus size is just wrong by definition… The term should just be “model”, as we represent the majority of Australian women. 

Robyn: And what are your thoughts on mid-size fashion? Does the industry cater well enough to these women?

Jasmine: It is difficult to make a standard size for any size, as all bodies are different. For example, I have a bigger bust. There are people who are more educated about models who are curvier and some people in the industry who don’t really know how to work with that. Another issue is sample sizes not being the right size and having to squeeze myself into a size 8 or 10. It would be great to see more people in the industry try to be more accommodating to everyone and for every model to be seen as a model and not split into a size category.
Robyn: Do you think social media has a good or bad impact on the way people feel about their bodies?
Jasmine: Both! Social media is a great tool and also terrible at the same time. It is always amazing seeing girls show off their confidence no matter their size or shape, without hiding their stretch marks or cellulite. It is usually empowering for other women to see but sometimes, there are some thoughtless people who feel the need to make comments about someone else’s appearance or body that are degrading. 
Robyn: How do you and your model peers cope with unsolicited comments about your appearance on social media?
Jasmine: At the beginning [of my career] I would really let the negative comments sink in. They do hurt and you can lose confidence from it because it’s personal when people talk about your appearance and how you look. At the end of the day, you realise they aren’t talking about you or your personality; they don’t even know you. They are behind a screen saying things they wouldn't have the courage to say in person, however you are in front of the screen changing how someone who sees your post feels about themselves. 
Robyn: As a Gen Z model, what’s your take on the Australian fashion industry today? Do you think it's inclusive and representative of real women?
Jasmine: The industry is definitely trying to increase size representation but it is happening slowly here in Australia. It’s great to see but we have a long way to go. Brands, in particular those that are higher-end or well known, only stock up to a size 12 to 14, but what about the girls and women who are 16+ who want to be and should be seen? 
Robyn: Is diet culture something you deal with right now?
Jasmine: 100%. It always comes and goes. There is always a voice in the back of my mind saying, 'Don’t eat this, it's so bad for you, eat the salad instead', which is very infuriating. You just have to realise that it's possible to find a balance and you have to do what makes you happy and healthy, as your mental and physical health should always come first. You have to live your life!
If you or anyone you know is struggling with disordered eating, please contact the Butterfly Foundation at 1800 33 4673. Support and information are available 7 days a week. 
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