H&M models are too thin. That’s what Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of the clothing giant, said about his company’s advertising campaigns, in an interview with the newspaper Metro this week.
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“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. That’s something we think a lot about and are working on. We want to show diversity in our advertising and not give people the impression that girls have to look a particular way. By and large, I think we’ve succeeded: We’ve many different kinds of models from different ethnic backgrounds."
Persson specifically called out some recent examples, including plus-size model Jennie Runk and the company's current superstar spokesperson Beyoncé.
"In our last campaign we had a somewhat more buxom model, and now we’re having Beyoncé, who’s a bit curvier as well...But I have to be honest and say that some of our models have been too skinny. That’s not OK.”
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Persson didn't specify which ads in the past sent unhealthy body image messages. The company has had a range of celebrity supermodels including everyone from Pamela Anderson and Gisele Bundchen, to Cindy Crawford and even actor Tim Roth. But it's the lesser-known H&M models who have faced scrutiny for their size. In 2011, the company was criticized for using what it admitted were "completely virtual" images of one unidentified slim female body reproduced and pasted with different models' heads. In March of last year, H&M again came under fire for featuring what some described as a "corpse-like" superskinny model on the verge of "collapse" in its campaign for a collaboration with the label Marni. After complaints from customers, the company told the Daily Mail, it was "regrettable that some of our customers interpret our Marni at H&M PR images as unethical, and feel that the model is underweight."
Persson's new statement, which seems to hold more promise, came only weeks after H&M unveiled their new swimsuit line prominently featuring plus-size model Runk, who is reportedly six fee -tall and size 14-16.
The Internet celebrated the photos of Runk hanging out on the beach wearing both one-pieces and bikinis and praised the company, which has a history of featuring classically skinny models. Runk was immediately thrust into the spotlight—her Facebook page garnered 2,000 new likes in 24 hours—and wrote in an essay for the BBC, “I had no idea that my H&M beachwear campaign would receive so much publicity. I'm the quiet type who reads books, plays video games, and might be a little too obsessed with her cat.
"So, suddenly having a large amount of publicity was an awkward surprise at first. I found it strange that people made such a fuss about how my body looks in a bikini, since I don't usually give it much thought.
"When my Facebook fan page gained about 2,000 new likes in 24 hours, I decided to use the attention as an opportunity to make the world a little nicer by promoting confidence. I've since been receiving lots of messages from fans, expressing gratitude.”
Persson’s sentiment couldn’t come at a better time. Over the past month, there’s been a public celebration of a curvy body type—from the mass support given to Oklahoma City Thunder cheerleader Kelsey Williams after a CBS Sports Radio 610 blogger called her "chunky," to a global protest when a 2006 interview with Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries resurfaced during which he said, “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."
If Abercrombie (and perhaps, H&M) have taught us anything, it's that excluding shoppers doesn't help sell clothes.