By now you've surely heard about the Ralph Lauren photoshopping debacle. In a nutshell: Model Filippa Hamilton was digitally whittled and twisted into a comically carnivalesque Laffy Taffy of a human being. Website BoingBoing wrote about it in their Photoshop Disasters section, where writer Xeni Jardin now-famously mocked, "Dude, her head's bigger than her pelvis." Ralph Lauren got its knickers in a bunch and had their lawyers send a take-down notice to BoingBoing, saying it was an "infringing image." The problem: BB is totally within its rights to post the ad -- it's called fair use. I mean, if I got sued every time I commented or snarked about an airbrushed image I saw, I'd be in a jailhouse slammer in rural Alabama.
Polo Ralph Lauren then tucked tail and admitted
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.
But today we're learning that Hamilton was actually fired months ago for being too heavy. This morning, I appeared on the Today Show (view segment here) where we broke the story. Hamilton, 23, spoke with the Today Show and the New York Daily News exclusively, saying, "They fired me because they said I was overweight and I couldn't fit in their clothes anymore."
Filippa Hamilton stands nearly six feet tall and weighs about 115 pounds.
In the Today segment, she appeared calm but obviously hurt, calling RL her "second family" (she has worked for them since she was 15). According to Geoffrey Menin, Hamilton's lawyer, the drastically altered image, in which the model's head is significantly larger than her waist or pelvis, is a "gross distortion of how she really looks and which we fear will be extremely damaging to her," not to mention the average woman at home reading a magazine and happening upon the pic.
Ralph Lauren has issued a statement in which that state they were forced to terminate Hamilton's contract because she no longer was able to fulfill her obligations, which include fitting into sample size clothing. I'm all for employees fulfilling their job obligations but those obligations have to be physically possible and not to the detriment of the worker's physical and mental health. I'm a writer, and if an editor hires me to write a story and turn it in on deadline, then I need to do that. But if an editor says, "I need you to type at 398 words per minute with zero mistakes," well, that just ain't gonna happen, no matter how speedy and talented I may be. Filippa Hamilton wears a size four, so I'm wondering just how microscopic RL's sample sizes are.
Here's my problem: Did anyone ever actually look at this image and think, for even one millisecond, that it was real? The poor model's body was manipulated to such an irrational extent that it ceases to look human any more. It's like someone holding up a picture of Oh No! Mr. Bill and saying, "No one has lips that full and luscious! He's obviously had Juvederm!" Um, no, it's a cartoon man, made of Playdoh. Same with this RL model. 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.
Dangerously poor editing aside, though, ads like the Ralph Lauren model represent the one step forward, two steps back cycle we seem to be caught in when it comes to body image: Just when something positive happens, like the proposed French law that any airbrushed image come with a warning sign, we get knocked down a few rungs on the ladder with the news that a 5'11", 115-lb model was terminated for being too fat.
This certainly isn't the first time a model has been fired for being overweight. In May of last year, I was interviewed on Today about runway model Ali Michael who was all but banned from the Paris Fashion Week runways for her "fat" legs, after she gained five pounds during recovery from an eating disorder. More recently, model Paulina Porizkova alleged she was fired from America's Next Top Model for being too heavy, and there was speculation that Saturday Night Live actress Casey Wilson got the axe for the same reason.