Dear H&M: If This Model is Plus-Size, Then We're All Fat

Does she look plus-size to you? (Photo: H&M)H&M, the clothing retailer that recently vowed to promote a healthier body image in its campaigns, seemed like it was on the right track when it featured a variety of genuinely stylish plus-size pieces in its latest catalog. The problem? The model wearing the items doesn't look plus-size at all — a detail that's not exactly sitting well with customers.

The controversy began when someone posted the photo of the slender model to Twitter and the backlash ensued. Even professional swimmer and positive body-image advocate Emma Igelström, joined the fray, telling Swedish publication The Local "The model looks like a totally normal girl, even skinny. I'm bigger than she is, and I wear a medium at H&M," adding, "H&M needs to take their responsibility for this. They are sponsors to the Swedish Olympics team, but by calling this model plus size they are strengthening the idea that super skinny is the ideal."

In response, H&M CEO Hacan Andersson released a statement to the The Local, which read, "She fits size (EU) 44 and that is also the size of the clothes she is wearing in our pictures," adding that all the company's plus-size models range in size from 42 to 54 and that it was open to "interpretation" whether the model used in the campaign should actually be called plus-size.

Until now, H&M's foray into the plus-size world has been pretty stop-start. In 2011, it admitted to using "completely virtual" images of female bodies topped with real model's heads. Soon after, its collaboration with label Marni was blasted for using a "corpse-like" model.

However, in May, Andersson vowed to promote a healthier body image, telling U.K. newspaper The Metro, "We have a huge responsibility here. We're a large company, many people see us, and we advertise a lot. I don't think we've always been good. Some of the models we've had have been too skinny." To drive its point home, H&M hired Beyonce to model their spring/summer 2013 swimwear line, but the singer was reportedly "furious" after her photos got a heavy airbrushing treatment, and then strong-armed H&M to use her "before" photos. The following month, in a celebrated move, H&M unveiled its beachwear line featuring plus-size model Jennie Runk, a six-foot tall beauty with healthy proportions.

The issue with this latest model, according to plus-size stylist Steffany Allen, is not whether she's "plus-size" or not. Instead it's about agreeing on a universal definition of the term. "The modeling industry characterizes plus-size models as those who wear sizes 6 to 8, but that's the size of the average American woman," Allen tells Yahoo Shine. "True plus-size begins at size 14 and as a plus-size woman, this model doesn't represent me at all."

Even more confusing, says Allen, is that the woman looks disproportionate, a possible sign that her curves were digitally added. "It looks as though they bulked up her thighs considerably, yet her top half is slender," she says. If H&M did alter the model's body in the photos, it wouldn't be the first time a company took a cringe-worthy stab at portraying a plus-size model. Earlier this month, Target featured an obviously pregnant woman in the plus-size section of its website.

"Until there's a meeting of the minds between the modeling industry and the real world," says Allen, " women will continue to receive mixed messages."