Filippa Hamilton, the 23-year-old model who was Photoshopped into a stick insect by Ralph Lauren, has revealed that the brand — which later apologised for the image — quietly fired her for being overweight.
Hamilton had counted Ralph Lauren among her clients since she started modeling at the age of 15 and she says that she considered the people who worked there her second family — at least until April of this year, when Ralph Lauren summarily fired her. The stated reason was that the label dumped Hamilton "as a result of her inability to meet the obligations under her contract with us." What Ralph Lauren allegedly told Hamilton's agency, Next, is that the
5'10" 5'8", 120 lb model had become too fat to fit into its clothing.
Ralph Lauren's behavior since these images came to light, on the blog Photoshop Disasters, has single-handedly turned a small PR crisis into a full-fledged disaster. First, the company had its lawyers try to sue Photoshop Disasters and BoingBoing, the second blog to pick up the story, for copyright infringement for reporting on the ad. The threats — and the fact that Ralph Lauren managed to get Photoshop Disasters' ISP, Google-owned Blogspot, to remove the image — not only came across as ridiculous and bullying, but only served to draw hundreds of thousands of eyes to the story. (The Daily Mail, Huffington Post, Telegraph, Current TV, and Mother Jones, among other outlets, jumped on the story with more or less alacrity.)
The company's apology, when it came, seemed sincere — but today, Ralph Lauren sought to distance itself from its decision to create and run the ad: "The image in question was mistakenly released and used in a department store in Japan and was not the approved image which ran in the U.S."
And for it to emerge that the model in question is a justifiably pissed-off employee that the brand threw under the bus six months ago for being "fat" — that's just the cherry on the Ralph Lauren public relations shit pie. The company's admission of "responsibility" for the ad, coming after its attempt to minimize the ad's significance, rings as hollow as its protestation that Hamilton is a "beautiful and healthy" woman, and that the Photoshop incident had "absolutely no connection" to the company's decision to fire her. Which is it? Is the ad a one-time "error" that was "unapproved," or is it something Ralph Lauren is prepared to take true responsibility for? Is Hamilton "beautiful and healthy," or is she unable to meet the obligations of her contract because of her weight?
Models get fired, or simply passed over for work, all the time for being overweight, but it's a practice that rarely gets addressed publicly. (Not least because anyone outside the industry might struggle to grasp by what measure a size 4 twenty-something who's represented a brand for nearly a decade could be considered "overweight.") There have even been cases where models who have had eating disorders, having entered treatment, have lost work or agency contracts because of their choice to try and get better. As much as it sucks that Hamilton was fired so coldly, it's kind of thrilling that she's willing to talk about it.
Did it never occur to Ralph Lauren to fire the photographer? Or the retoucher who created the image of the near-death Bratz doll Hamilton? Why didn't it consider firing the person who was responsible for releasing the image, if indeed that was a "mistake"? Why did Ralph Lauren's sights immediately fall to rest on the person involved who bore the least responsibility for the drastically altered image in question: the model?
What else isn't so great? Hearing some of Cosmopolitan editor Kate White's statements in the full segment. It seems to be the rule that any model, when doing television appearances, needs to be chaperoned by a fashion magazine editor, à la Ali Michael and Teen Vogue's Amy Astley. At least, that's the only explanation I could come up with for White's presence. After grabbing Hamilton's spotlight and hitching her wagon to the attendant publicity by offering her an 8-page spread in her magazine — a favor that Hamilton, having graced the covers of numerous international editions of Elle, Harper's Bazaar, and Vogue, including one of my all-time favorite issues of Vogue Paris, hardly need lower herself to accept — White, much like Ralph Lauren, set about walking the delicate line of admitting that there might be a "problem" in fashion without doing anything so creative as taking responsibility for it.
"It really starts with the sample clothes, because they've down-sized, they're now like a size 2 or 4," says White. "To some degree, it relates to the Kate Moss era. Before then, supermodels like Cindy Crawford and Christy Brinkley, they were really curvy. But they got skinnier and skinnier, and the clothes got smaller, and so it creates this cycle where you have to fit in the clothes to get the job, and then the models get smaller and that's who we have to use in fashion stories."
Notice the absence of subjects in that sentence: "it" creates a cycle. (A cycle! Those can be really hard to stop.) "It" relates to Kate Moss, or at least her "era." "The clothes" got smaller. (All by themselves?) The underweight ideal body that the fashion industry promulgates to women all around the world — and the underweight bodies that real fashion models are required to maintain, and which some cannot but maintain through unhealthy means — are problems that everyone is prepared to "acknowledge" in the fashion industry. People write letters about it. They institute meaningless, unenforced laws. What nobody has yet done is actually make a serious, thoughtful attempt to confront these problems of the industry's function — and this is an industry which is structured to punish the sufferer of an eating disorder who decides to enter treatment — and to solve them.
White's perspective on the basic problem is troubling: "The models" got smaller — seemingly of our own volition — and that's who she "has" to use in fashion stories.
The Cosmopolitan editor goes on to say, "I think women have to protest — and back it up. Because sometimes women say they want real girls in stories, but often those stories don't rate as well. Or if you put a heavy celebrity on the cover it might not sell as well. So women have to complain, and then back it up with their actions. Their pocketbooks." If we don't have the magazines we deserve, it's really our own fault.