H&M has generated big buzz by tapping Jennie Runk, a size 12 American model, to front its plus-size swimwear campaign this season.
Most of the campaign shows Runk beachside in a one-piece swimsuit or shorts and a top. But one wall-size ad features the model in a black bikini with a tiny bit of roll over her bathing suit bottom—quelle horror.
Such splash on a plus-size bathing suit ad marks a big step forward for a fashion chain in general, but especially for the Swedish retailer. Just two years ago, the company was blasted for Photoshopping the heads of real models onto one computer-generated body in different skin tones for its online shop.
Adweek reports that the new campaign is already being praised for promoting a healthy body image. Commenters left notes that read, “REAL Woman <3” and “Wow. She is absolutely gorgeous and has a normal body. How Refreshing.” on a slide show of the campaign on Ford Models’ blog. It’s worth mentioning that Runk is still smaller than the average American woman, who wears a size 14, and that much of the praise has focused on how “normal” her body is, despite the fact that she’s technically a plus-size model fronting a plus-size swimsuit campaign.
H&M for its part has downplayed the press. “Our aim is not to convey a certain message or show an ideal but to find a model who can illustrate this collection in an inspiring and clear way,” an H&M publicist told Quartz.
The retailer got similar press in 1993 when it put busty Playboy centerfold Anna Nicole Smith in lace corsets and bras on billboards around the world as part of its lingerie campaign; the ads caused traffic accidents for several distracted drivers. High-end designers, fashion magazines and mass brands have since used fuller figured models in several high-profile campaigns: Jean Paul Gaultier closed his 2005 show in Paris with Crystal Renn, then a size 12 model, while Robyn Lawley became Ralph Lauren’s first plus-size model last September. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, which subbed real women for professional models in its ads, went viral after launching in 2004. But if the reaction to H&M’s latest campaign is any indication, plus-size models are still too few and far in between in fashion.