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TW – This article talks about diet, exercise and eating disorders.
When it comes to truly body positive role models, it would seem that we are somewhat lacking. One of the people often hailed as a bopo role model is Iskra Lawrence and well… let’s talk about the problems with that, because there are A LOT. For those that don’t recognise her name, Iskra Lawrence is an English model known for her blonde hair and curves, her website states that she is a UK size 14, and that she is a ‘champion of body diversity’.
So, where to begin? Iskra isn’t a fan of being called plus size, ‘what upsets me is the fact that if you’ve categorized me, you’ve categorized all women my size and above in the real world. The term has a really negative connotation thanks to the fashion industry’ (shape.com) like many other models who work in the plus size industry. If someone doesn’t want to be called plus size (and whether or not a size 14 model should be called plus size is a whole other debate), why are they happy to take work from companies for plus size women and profit off of our part of the fashion industry? If you don’t want to be called plus size, stop taking work that proud plus size models could be doing instead. Rather than embrace the term that so many of us need to know where we can shop, she buys into its negative connotations. Like a petite section, or a maternity section, we need the label so that we can shop, at a size 14 however, Iskra doesn’t and her privilege blinds her to the need for the term.
✨😝I'm sorry I couldn't help myself…This is for anyone who has ever been called FAT. Thanks for the inspirational words on a recent pic @zseanzbrown 👇🏼 "Fat cow. It's only cus every F****r on this planet is obese that that's the norm… Plus-size models? give me a F*****g breaking. Everyone needs to stop eating McDonald's, the NHS is f****d because of people like her eating too many bags of crisps." Opinions are like arseholes – everyone's got one🙌 thanks to the dream team for making this happen at work today 📸 by @ricktphoto @mandywinrow @nickigillonstylist
Iskra regularly hits back at trolls who call her fat, famously she was photographed in a pile of crisps once, but when she responds unfortunately her focus tends to be on health, and that she is healthy, ‘Health comes in many shapes and sizes’ (Daily Mail). The problem with this is that it implies that only those who are healthy deserve self-love, and it is a very ableist statement. Not everyone can be healthy, and implying that her healthiness is a reason why she shouldn’t be called fat suggests that being fat is wrong, and that your lack of health is wrong too. I’m not here for her repeated ableism.
One of the brands Iskra is most vocal about working with is Aerie. Aerie pride themselves on not using Photoshop in their adverts which is awesome, however they’ve been caught up in their own bopo scandals. In 2016 they created what they called a ‘hoax’ advert for April Fool’s Day with the hashtag #AerieMan starring plus size blogger Notoriously Dapper. There was a lot of confusion around whether or not he even knew the campaign was a hoax when he agreed to take part. It featured male models in their underwear in bubble baths, yoga poses, dancing, and more, and Aerie later admitted the whole campaign was a joke after it had been heralded as bopo awesome. The campaign featured more diverse men than usually seen in underwear modelling and it had been great to see chest hair, bellies and unretouched male bodies, so to be told it was all a joke wasn’t cool. Iskra continues to work with them and promotes them as body positive, but their attitudes towards body positivity for men being used in an April Fool’s Day joke leave something to be desired.
Iskra is also a brand ambassador for NEDA, the National Eating Disorder Association, and created the NEDA Inspire Awards through her work with them. Sadly however, on several occasions Iskra has been seen promoting diets and even diet replacement drinks. She’s very careful never to use the word diet, and instead substitutes it with ‘health’. Switch out the world health for diet and see how problematic her language really is.
‘My biggest health tip for travelers:
Prepare, and don’t use traveling as an excuse. Research healthy restaurants or food stores, and buy snacks—nuts, fruit, protein bars—so you don’t reach for junk. Even if you only do squats while you’re brushing your teeth or some ab exercises before bed, just do it! You will thank yourself for it.’
There are so many instances of her talking about what to eat and what to not eat, and yet she is an ambassador for an eating disorder charity. For me, they don’t go hand in hand and her constant food and exercise talk could be extremely damaging for someone suffering with an ED or disordered eating who might look to her as a body positive role model. More recently, Iskra has been working with Self magazine and controversially published a ‘New Year’ diet plan with them. Several people worked out the calorie counts for whole days of this diet plan and found some to be as little as 1500 calories, and some suggested it hinted at orthorexia (orthorexia is a condition that often includes obsessive behaviour in the pursuit of a healthy diet). Advocating any kind of set diet plan should be totally against her work with NEDA. Ultimately this article was pulled from the internet and she later apologised for potentially triggering her followers, but this isn’t the first time she has been seen promoting diets. It’s also worth noting that she hasn’t removed her promotions of this diet and workout routine with Self, they are still all on her Instagram. Speaking of Instagram, Iskra’s is a constant stream of gym selfies and talk of working out, and she’s done many interviews talking about her gruelling workout regimen to achieve her figure. Her YouTube channel also features workout and exercise videos, and over on Twitter at the time of writing in her last 12 tweets, 4 contained information about her workout regime.
💚💙 walk with me & @NEDA this Sunday @mallofamerica to help raise awareness & funds for those affected by Eating Disorders! (Take a look at all the pics for more details) I really hope to see you all there, it really is so important that we fight to help everyone affected by the most deadly of all mental illnesses. . For all of you who can't be there, I walk for you… we ALL walk for you & as one. NEDA is all of you. It's there to provide you all with the help, support & materials to not only aid recovery but also create an empowered positive community in which we can learn, love & thrive. I'm so proud & grateful of every single person who makes NEDA's work possible. 💚💙 . Straight after I will also be doing a meet & greet @aerie store so make sure you come to both!! Cannot wait to meet you all😘💚💙 #everyBODYisbeautiful #aeriereal
Some extra receipts: pic.twitter.com/g17ShBzIHw
— Kitty Underhill 🐯 (@KittyUnderhillx) March 28, 2017
Previously Iskra worked with Almased, a meal drink replacement, appearing as a bride who didn’t fit into her wedding dress. This is an older advert, but Almased uploaded it to their YouTube channel in January and continue to use it to promote their products. While she has since apologised for these adverts on her YouTube channel, the more recent diet plans she published with Self show that her version of body positivity is still incredibly problematic, and isn’t for all bodies. Her focus is on health and being healthy, in a relentless way. Encouraging diet plans can be incredibly triggering and as someone who considers themselves a bopo role model, it’s clear she needs to think more before she participates in diet culture.
More recently, Iskra is one of the stars of Simply Be’s newest campaign, ‘We Are Curves’. A quick peek at Simply Be’s Facebook page shows that this campaign has created a lot of outrage, because all of the models, including Iskra, are hourglass shaped, and seem to be right at the bottom of Simply Be’s size range, which starts at a UK 12. A quick google tells me that actually, all 3 women featured in the campaign are a size 14. For a plus size company to use only size 14 models, and to claim that this is a bopo campaign to celebrate curves is letting down the plus size community once again. We are consistently presented with Iskra as an example of a plus size woman who loves herself, but she has a lot of privilege as a white, toned, flat bellied, hourglass figured woman who is a size 14. She doesn’t represent those of us who are fat but don’t have curves, or anyone who is above a size 18, never mind a size 24+. As a plus size community we want to see clothes on bodies that looks like ours, and a lot of us feel that Iskra isn’t that model.
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With Iskra’s constant focus on health and exercise, it feels like she believes in body positivity… but only on her terms. There are body positive role models out there who use their voice and privilege to raise up the voices of bigger fats, those who are disabled, the LGBTQIA* community, and people of colour who are so underrepresented in the media. Instead, Iskra seems more focused on her own voice, and her own body type, and her own brand of self-love that comes with terms and conditions. I’m not here for those terms and conditions. Loving yourself is a hard journey, and it doesn’t come with stipulations and rules. If you position yourself as a body positive role model you must be here for all bodies, not just those that fit your own ideals of health and acceptability.
We deserve better bopo icons than Iskra Lawrence, so please do comment and let me know who you feel really deserves that title!