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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

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