Minding the Media: Ralph Lauren Sinks Lower and Lower
Model Filippa Hamilton — 5’10” and 120 pounds — recently was fired from Ralph Lauren for being fat.
According to Hamilton, who had worked for the designer since 2002, “they fired me because they said I was overweight and I couldn’t fit in their clothes anymore.”
After initially picking my jaw up off the floor, I wondered, “Should we really be flabbergasted?” Unfortunately, most of us are well aware of the fashion industry’s skewed standards. Just recently fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld had this to say after finding out that the German magazine, Brigitte was going to use “real women” instead of models:
No one wants to see curvy women. You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying thin models are ugly. Fashion is about dreams and illusions.
Perhaps it was the idea of dreams and illusions that pushed Ralph Lauren to Photoshop Filippa Hamilton into an alien, stirring up a flurry of controversy. Here is the photo in question (originally posted on photoshopdisasters.blogspot.com). The severely altered ad prompted BoingBoing to comment: “Dude, her head’s bigger than her pelvis.”
In response to BoingBoing’s comment, Lauren threatened legal action against the website for copyright infringement (clearly, completely off base). Since then, Lauren has issued an apology for the ad, which, according to the brand, only appeared in one store in Japan:
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.
Conveniently, Lauren didn’t take the same precautions with the company’s ad in another country. Here is a window display from Sydney, Australia.
In her blog post on the controversy, Leslie Goldman of Never Say Diet asserts that ads that are subtly Photoshopped are more dangerous than the ones which shout from the rooftops of their alteration. She writes:
So much attention is being paid to this uber-obvious example, when there are a gazillion other equally egregious (but simply not as apparent) airbrushed women floating through our daily media. It’s pictures like this and this, where the “after” picture has been radically altered but in very subtle ways. These are the images that catch people’s eyes without them knowing it. These are the pictures that worm their way into our subconscious and make us feel like something is missing – bigger boobs, fuller hair, fewer wrinkles. That Ralph Lauren pic was so out-of-whack, it was laughable. The other images that make us all feel like garbage are just sad.
I agree that understated images are the ones we should worry about, the ones that push perfection, but in a sneaky, almost natural-looking way. However, these seemingly absurd images can still be used happily by pro-anorexia sites for “thinspiration” (they don’t even have to whittle down the image). And girls and young teens may not be as aware of the extent of the ridiculous revisions and believe they’re seeing a “real” person. Interestingly, the alienesque images also don’t do brands any favors: They’re hideous, do little to lure buyers into getting their clothes, and may even dissuade them. And at least with Lauren’s statement, the company seems to concur.
On Hamilton’s dismissal? It’s natural to be cynical and view this incident as an anomaly attributed to the outrageous world of fashion. Or that being too thin is in a model’s job description and not fulfilling that requirement is grounds for firing. On Shine.com, one reader equated Hamilton’s firing to a pro athlete getting benched for not staying conditioned.
However, skewed standards or not, it seems like the fashion business is living in an alternate reality (perhaps that explains the alien-looking image). Sure, models are held to thinner standards — often so brutally thin that it’s jaw-droppingly shocking — but when a model who’s already underweight gets let go for being “overweight,” we have a serious problem.
Part of that problem is that, as Joanna Douglas writes on Shine, the industry does this all the time. As she notes, models are “fired or overlooked”; “we just rarely see or hear about it.” And in an industry based on looks, can we really get outraged if a company makes the decision to fire a model based on just that?
Ralph Lauren is part of Americana and as such, you’d think the brand would want its models to reflect that image. I can’t imagine how much thinner we have to go for Lauren, and many other designers, to be satisfied. We, the ones these brands are presumably targeting (unless they’d rather ignore the majority of their customer base), aren’t impressed, and oftentimes we’re actually horrified. Why advertisers don’t get this point is beyond me.
So do you think Hamilton’s firing was justified or are you worried that this is just another ominous sign that things have gone too far?
You can view more on the controversy on The Today Show segment here.
Tartakovsky, M. (2019). Minding the Media: Ralph Lauren Sinks Lower and Lower. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 6, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/minding-the-media-ralph-lauren-sinks-lower-and-lower/