“EMPOWER YOUR MIND”
AUSTRALIAN MODEL ROBYN LAWLEY IS RAISING A GENDER-NEUTRAL CHILD, ENFORCES AN AT-HOME BAN ON DIETING AND BARBIES, AND VOWS TO ALWAYS SPEAK UP FOR “NORMAL” WOMEN LIKE HER
By refusing to conform to an idealised body type, Robyn Lawley is inspiring a new generation of young women.
High above the city streets, Robyn Lawley is perched on a rooftop, swaying playfully and sensually to the beat of a hip-hop song. The surprisingly bright winter sun beats down on the 28-year-old Australian, who expertly tilts her head as a photographer snaps away. She looks comfortable and happy – disarmingly so, given that despite the sun, it is cold and blustery. And Lawley is not wearing any pants.
It is a wholly abnormal situation in which to be – but Robyn Lawley’s career has always been about beating back expectations and redefining what’s “normal” in modelling. In theory, she hits the trifecta. She has gorgeous bone structure, a mane of luxurious hair and legs that go on for days. But because she is not a sample size six, instead wearing a 12–14, she is labelled plus-size.
And for more than a decade, she has happily claimed the mantle, knocking down barriers for fellow “big girls” and looking great while doing it. Lawley was one of the first “plus-size” models to appear on the cover of French Elle and Vogue Italia. She was among the first to appear in campaigns for Ralph Lauren and Pantene. And while Ashley Graham may have been the first plus-size model to cover Sports Illustrated’s coveted swimsuit issue earlier this year, Lawley ostensibly helped gain her entrée when, back in 2015, she was the first plus-size model ever to feature in an editorial spread for the edition.
Even she seems flummoxed by where she’s landed, modestly telling Stellar that “I didn’t expect any of it, to be honest. You go into it hoping you’ll do well, [but] it’s one of those jobs you can’t predict at all. I really hit at the perfect time.”
WHEN THE AVERAGE Australian woman hits the shops, she searches for a size 14–16. Lawley brings facts like this, along with a healthy dose of brio and bravado, along to what can sometimes be an ugly debate. She wants to be – and is already at – the forefront of efforts to change public perceptions about body image and beauty standards. And she does not mince words when she talks about it.
“Why in the hell haven’t we seen regular-sized women in mainstream media before?” Lawley asks Stellar. “It just doesn’t make sense to me. I think we got really obsessed with one type of frame for a really long time.”
She sounds incredulous when she notes that “everyone’s acting so surprised that these [plus-size] girls are beautiful. It’s just more representative of people that we see every day.
“It’s such a stupid ideal we follow. Why can’t we just empower women to love their bodies as they are? It sounds clichéd, but that’s been my message from the start – and always will be.”
Former Vogue Australia editor Kirstie Clements says that when Lawley showed up to shoot an editorial spread for the magazine in 2011 – she was the first plus-size model to feature in its then 52-year history – she was astounded by the disconnect. “It made me stop in my tracks. We were all like, ‘If that’s what a plus-size model looks like, then we’re all out of our minds.’ It’s silly. I remember thinking, ‘Hang on a second, everybody’s got to re-adjust their focus.’”
Lawley pursues the same goal when she reaches out to young girls. One of the key messages she wants to send to future generations is that “perfecting” their bodies should never come at the expense of perfecting their brains. She wants them to find pride in learning, aim to be smarter and develop hobbies and interests. She encourages them to embrace what’s unique and different about themselves, instead of trying to attain an unrealistic ideal of perfection.
“I don’t want any little girl to hold herself back. That’s the only thing I care about,” she says. “I’m so sick of the Kardashians. I’m so sick of all that bullsh*t. You’ve got to empower your mind. I tell girls, ‘Start following people who actually use their brain. You need to be a trailblazer and change the way it is… because it won’t change otherwise.’”
To that end, Lawley takes a very un-kardashian-like approach to her social-media accounts. After giving birth to her daughter in 2015, she posted un-retouched photos of her stretch marks. It was a calculated move, since she had previously come under fire when she was misquoted as saying that she didn’t want to have a baby because she didn’t want stretch marks. “I’ve never been more mad in my whole life because I never said that,” she says.
“I’m so sick of the Kardashians. I’m sick of all that crap. You’ve got to empower your mind”
“I knew [stretch marks] were coming because I had them already and I know that with a baby comes change.
“I’m covered in stretch marks! I have them all over my body, all over my thighs, all over my hips… I have them everywhere and I don’t care. I had Sports Illustrated shoots right after my baby. And my stomach was just covered. That’s life. I’m proud of my stomach. I birthed a five kilogram baby. That’s what should matter.”
When Lawley was growing up in the western Sydney suburb of Girraween, she was taken by sci-fi and fantasy movies. One of her earliest role models was Ripley, the iconically tough protagonist played by Sigourney Weaver in the original Alien movies. Years later, Lawley met her childhood idol – and was uncharacteristically tongue-tied. “I was flabbergasted talking to her,” Lawley recalls. “She was awesome. I was like, ‘If I ever have a daughter I’m going to o name her Ripley!’ I was in love withh that movie. Then I got pregnant pretty soon after. And when I foundnd out I was having a daughter? I wass like, ‘Great! I get to call her Ripley!’” ’”
True to her word, Lawley and herer partner, Everest Schmidt, named their daughter Ripley and went one better: beyond just her name, they have chosen to raise her in a completely gender-neutral environment. “She wears pink, but she also wears blue and green,” Lawley says. “I’ll put whatever colour on her. She has a rubber snake that she carries around and she loves. I’m adamant about not giving her a Barbie doll – because I hate Barbie dolls.
“If I had a boy it would be the same. If [he] wanted to play with a doll – not a Barbie – then that’s fine. Or a dinosaur. That’s fine. We should be giving them both options and then let them decide.”
Schmidt is a stay-at-home dad; as Lawley puts it with pride, Ripley is “raised by a feminist father. He’s hands-on and it’s a beautiful thing. He’s really involved.”
This isn’t the first time the pair have flipped the script, either. They met in their early 20s in New York when they attended a modelling industry event. Reflecting on her first encounter with Schmidt, a former US college basketball player, Lawley laughs. “I actually picked him up! Back in the days before Tinder. He was really tall and he was beautiful and I was like, ‘I want a hunk of that spunk!’ So I went up to him and said, ‘Hi, I’m Robyn.’”
They live a quiet life in upstate New York, coming home for special visits like the one Lawley is on when she meets with Stellar – which coincided with a trip home to attend her sister’s wedding. But don’t think the nuptials left her itching to walk down the aisle anytime soon.
“It’s the opposite,” she laughs. “And if we ever did [get married] we would go down to a courthouse and do it. I just don’t see the need. We love each other, we’re committed to each other, we’re not religious. I get dressed up all the time – it’s my idea of work. Having a kid with someone? That’s commitment enough.” SOON AFTER RIPLEY was born, Lawley had a terrifying medical scare, suffering loss of vision, the ability to lift her arms and even talk. She was alone in Los Angeles at the time, fearful she was suffering a severe case of postnatal depression. As her symptoms worsened and she began to experience excruciating pain, her family rushed to her side and put her on a plane home to Australia. By this point, she could barely walk. “I had to get wheel-chaired off the plane and straight into MRIS, blood tests, spinal taps…” she says. Doctors were baffled, but after numerous tests, she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a rare and potentially fatal autoimmune disease for which there is no cure. She is able to manage her condition, but Lawley says she’ll never give birth again for fear the disease will flare up. If she did, Lawley reckons, “I’m pretty sure that after the baby was born I’d go into freefall.”
Given Ripley, two-and-a-half, has two parents of Amazonian height – Schmidt is 2m tall and Lawley stands at 1.9m – it’s natural to wonder if she’ll follow her mum into modelling. Lawley predicts Ripley will land somewhere between her and Schmidt, height-wise, pointing out that “she’s got the energy of a five-yearold – she’s already the size of one!”
But she remains wary. If Ripley does want to model, Lawley – who was encouraged to slim down when she first started out – will be ferociously protective. “It’s stupid to make girls lose weight at 16 to model for an effing catwalk. It gets me so mad. If any agent told Ripley [to lose weight] I don’t know what I’d do. I’d lose my mind. I don’t want my daughter feeling like that.”
In fact, the mere mention of the word “diet” makes Lawley defiant. “I love to eat, I have to eat,” she says. “I had a Nutella donut the other day. I don’t care. As soon as you start to deny yourself you will
“If any agent told my daughter to lose weight I would lose my mind”
become obsessed. Fat-free is terrible. Calorie counting. All that sh*t. Terrible. I would never diet again. I’ve never even thought about it. I’m not going to starve.”
Lawley celebrates her appetite so much that in 2014 she published a cookbook entitled Robyn Lawley Eats. Her website also features a food-focused blog, but she has no further plans to expand that aspect of her business. Once Lawley sets a goal, she smashes it, then moves on to the next thing. Having just wrapped production on her last swimsuit range, she reveals she and Schmidt are working on a screenplay. “The film industry will be next,” Lawley declares.
There’s no doubt she’ll see it through. For years, Lawley has redefined what it means to model – in the process, she changed a few minds, moved some goalposts and kicked down a few doors. But while she effected change by refusing to conform her body to somebody else’s standards, the model has an idea for her next big venture – on the other side of the lens. Once they knock out that screenplay, Lawley wants to direct any resulting film. As she reasons, “I see more power in being behind the camera.”
ROBYN WEARS Asilio shirt, myer.com.au; Chantelle briefs, davidjones. com.au; Dinosaur Designs earrings, dinosaurdesigns. com.au; (opposite) Dion Lee dress, dionlee.com; Dinosaur Designs earrings, as before
REWRITING THE RULES (clockwise from left) Robyn Lawley is using her experience in modelling to empower young girls to love their bodies; with daughter Ripley; proudly showing off her stretch marks; Lawley and partner Everest Schmidt; walking the runway du
ROBYN WEARS Dion Lee dress, dionlee.com; Calvin Klein earrings, (03) 8844 3300; Bianca Spender belt, biancaspender.com; Manolo Blahnik shoes, harrolds.com.au; (opposite) Rebecca Vallance bustier, rebeccavallance.com; Dinosaur Designs earrings, dinosaurdesigns.com.au
HAIR Travis Balcke using Wella MAKE-UP Filomena Natoli using L’oréal Paris