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

Elise Solé

H&M, the clothing retailer that recently vowed to promote a healthier body image in their campaigns, is really trying, with its new plus-size model. The problem? She's not plus-size at all - a detail that's not exactly sitting well with customers.

The controversy began when H&M's catalog was recently mailed out. The plus-size section featured obviously slender model Sabina Karlson, a size 40 (roughly, a size medium in H&M clothing). Someone posted the photo of Karlson on Twitter and the backlash ensued.

In response, H&M CEO Håcan Andersson released a statement to the Swedish publication 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 have ranged in size from 42-54 and that Karlon's size was open to "interpretation" (whatever that means). Soon after, her agency changed the model's measurements on its website from 42 to 42-44.

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 Marni was blasted for using a "corpse-like" model.

However, in May, Andersson vowed to promote a healthier body image, telling the 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, 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 Karlson, according to plus-size stylist Steffany Allen, is not whether she's "plus-size" or not - it's agreeing to a universal definition of the term. "The modeling industry characterizes plus-size models as those who wear sizes 6-8 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 Karlson 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 the company did altar the model's body, it wouldn't be the first time a company took a random stab at porting a plus-size model. Earlier this month, in a cringe-worthy move, 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 world, the message will continue to be mixed," says Allen.