A new podcast from Aussie model and podcaster Robyn Lawley boldly critiques the body positivity movement, including the bodies and types of people it leaves behind, through the lens of someone whose career was “pioneered” in that space.
Robyn, 31, tells PEDESTRIAN.TV that body positivity is “always kind of putting this pressure on us that we have to feel good about ourselves all the time. And we don’t”.
She acknowledges that body positivity did help her learn to love her body shape, curves and height, her thighs and wide hips. But when she started out as a model in 2006, the fashion industry celebrated “waifish, very skinny” women.
“You had to be starving yourself to start [modelling],” Robyn explains. “It was that anorexic chic look, for some unknown reason.
“And now, it’s the opposite. Curves are in fashion, so to speak. But it’s also that very constrained curve, it’s very Photoshopped, it’s very perfect.”
With that shift in fashion, ‘curvy’ has become a kind of trend that’s not necessarily grounded in reality, with some people seeking enhancements through Botox or fat injections. It’s something she talks about in the Audible Original podcast, out today, March 23, Every Body With Robyn Lawley: Surviving & Thriving In A Body Shaming World.
“I don’t want [body positivity] to be a trend either,” Robyn says. “I want fashion to include everyone. The fashion world doesn’t need to have these stupid trends anymore.”
Now, Robyn would like to see the industry move away from Photoshop and filters, and instead feature people from diverse backgrounds and people with disability.
“These bodies just don’t get heard enough,” she says. “And I’m sick and tired of it. I’m tired of not hearing from minority groups. I’m bored.
“I feel like we’re finally starting to see diversity [in the fashion industry]. We’re finally saying to see models of disability used. The runways are starting to change. I think brands are starting to wake up.”
In 2018, Robyn Lawley had a seizure and fell down a staircase in her home in upstate New York, an accident that saw her hospitalised with a cracked skull and injuries to her face.
Since that day, she’s needed to renegotiate her relationship with her body, incorporating a new lightning-shaped scar on her forehead into the way she sees herself.
She suffers from the seizures due to lupus and antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), having been diagnosed after the birth of her daughter, Ripley.
“I see my scars as my survival story, because the scars that I have, I got them because I fell down the staircase. I could have fallen down that staircase and died, but I fell down that staircase and survived.”
Her body, like all of our bodies, is already a fraught space – Robyn is known as the first “plus-size” model to be photographed for Vogue Australia.
While making Every Body in Woodstock, New York, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Robyn Lawley suffered another seizure.
“I came out of the hospital and I got to continue to do the interviews and that was a profound experience for me,” she says.
“If I have any injuries, I can’t keep modelling. But this I could keep doing.”
Robyn says she was grateful to learn from the experiences of her inspiring guests, including burns survivor and ironwoman Turia Pitt, actor and mental health advocate Jameela Jamil, and Khadija Gbla, an activist and survivor of female genital mutilation.
“I wanted to have a talk with people about truly overcoming hardships about their bodies,” she says. “Once you face those experiences, you come back from a different place. You are forever changed and you don’t view your body the same way.”
She gushes about the way her guests on Every Body have healed from unimaginable trauma and are then willing to share their journeys.
“Some of these people I speak to [for the podcast], they have such an amazing view on their bodies, and they’re heroes.”
Robyn’s guests on the podcast, like Turia Pitt, gave her the inspiration to “get me out of a hospital bed every time I’ve had an epileptic seizure”.
“Those stories of survival, for me personally, they take me out of this frivolous model world sometimes and they put me on a profound journey,” she continues. “Your body is so much more than what it looks like.”
Robyn also wants to open up a conversation about how we look after our bodies and our mental health. Since falling down the staircase, she says she makes an effort to take care of her body by getting enough sleep, drinking water and eating well – and she’s been so successful that her lupus and APS are currently in remission.
“My body works for me now because I look after it. She is my best friend. I think too often we don’t take care of our bodies and too often we just are too harsh on ourselves,” Robyn says.
Body positivity can be perceived as limiting because of its focus on the individual, on self-love, rather than addressing overarching structures that can be harmful to women.
But there is a groundswell of women trying to shine a light on society’s blind spots, as exemplified by last week’s Women’s March 4 Justice. Its demands include implementing recommendations from a 2020 inquiry into sexual harassment in Aussie workplaces and an increase in the funding dedicated to the prevention of gendered violence.
“I love seeing women stand up for themselves,” Robyn says, of last week’s protests. “I’m so happy, I’m so proud of everyone in Australia standing up. I’m so sick of the misogynistic world of a lot of the media, of press about women’s bodies and women’s rights and the sexual assault that did happen to that poor woman.
“I think it is time [to stand up]. It matters. It definitely matters, because equality matters.”
Robyn Lawley hopes listeners feel empowered by listening to Every Body. She wants people to be inspired to look at their bodies differently, from their stretch marks to their scars to their wrinkles.
“I don’t want to erase the scars that remind me that I survived that accident and that I could have died,” she says. “I want to embrace the scars that make me human. The same with the wrinkles, I want to embrace the fact that I’m alive.
“We try to erase every wrinkle and every line as quick as possible. We try to get back into our pre-baby bodies as quick as possible, but I think we’ve got to take this moment to just remember that we’re human, we’re here, we survived.”
Every Body With Robyn Lawley: Surviving & Thriving In A Body Shaming World is available only on Audible.