Robyn Lawley’s face literally makes her millions.
The 29-year-old Aussie supermodel based in New York has appeared on the cover of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Marie Claire and Elle, featured as the face of high end brands like Ralph Lauren, and built her own successful swimwear brand.
Oh, and she just casually single-handedly created a space in the modelling industry for women who aren’t a size six, being ‘the first plus-size model’ (their words, not ours or hers) to grace covers and lead global advertising campaigns.
Then, earlier this year, Robyn had an accident.
A seizure on her staircase saw the mum-of-one fall from over two metres, face first. She needed multiple stitches across her face, and also lost a tooth.
It was kind of ironic considering her profession, Robyn wrote in an Instagram post sharing her recovery in August.
The incident left its mark. More accurately, two marks – a “lightening bolt” shaped scar on her forehead just below her hairline and a smaller scar on her chin.
When your livelihood is dependant on your appearance, it’d be understandable to want to have nothing to do with those scars. In 2018, laser treatments can erase scars like Robyn’s, as if they were never there.
But there’s a reason Robyn has chosen not to have them cosmetically removed, even though some headlines have called them ‘horrific’.
“It’s always hard when you have a facial injury, and it definitely wasn’t an overnight ‘I feel great about my scars’ thing, I had active stitches in my head and I lost a tooth, it was really hard. But hearing so many other girls reach out to me with similar stories about their lupus, that helped me recover,” she told Mamamia.
“Sometimes you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone and think, you know what, scars, whatever, they’re a part of life. My partner [Everest Schmidt] was the reason why I didn’t want to get laser and get rid of the scars. Lupus is a condition I’m going to be stuck with for the rest of my life so I figured it’s better make people [with lupus] feel like they’re not alone and that they’re not suffering by themselves than covering them up.
“The more we see girls going ‘f*ck you, I’m embracing myself’, the better it will be for all of us.”
Robyn does admit not all models would have the luxury, for want of a better term, to keep facial scars like hers.
While the beauty industry is slowly beginning to accept – advertise, even – the physical quirks we’ve always seen as imperfections (just last week, MAC posted an image on Instagram of their product modelled on a woman with upper lip hair), fashion is still a very cruel workplace, in her opinion.
“I am a bit disappointed with the fashion industry, they’re still a bit straighty-180 and only very, very slowly starting to change. The fashion world can be cruel like that.”
“10 years ago [when I first started out], I might’ve had to cover the scars up. I was a different person then, I was a lot more self conscious and I listened a lot more to what people said to me. Now I’m like ‘I’m too old’, whatever people say doesn’t bother me anymore.”
Robyn was first diagnosed with the SLE lupus, a rare auto-immune disease that causes immune cells to attack healthy cells – in 2015 after the birth of her now-three-year-old daughter Ripley.
Garvan Institute research estimates more than 20,000 Australians are affected by this disease, nine out of every 10 of those being women.
Like many women, she was told she was ‘exaggerating’ her symptoms. It was normal for a woman as busy and stressed as her to feel run down. Sure, that can be the case, until it’s not, as Robyn experienced.
“I was diagnosed with lupus after my baby was born a few years ago. Lupus is really hard to get diagnosed, it’s not like an overnight thing, and especially with women’s health, we tend to get overlooked and told that we’re exaggerating. Doctors didn’t take me seriously,” she said.
“My symptoms progressed over time… I couldn’t walk or talk very well, you get skin problems too with lupus, mine were prior to the birth of my child, rashes on my chest that I was getting them even before I was pregnant. I just thought it was because I was so stressed.”
After a “very difficult” recovery, Robyn is now back at work. For her, managing her illness means stopping to take care of herself properly, and not letting it get the best of her.
“Usually, my disease is in a ‘remission’ state – that’s why the seizure surprised me as well, I was actually going to go out that night to a musical festival, so I didn’t expect it at all, I felt fine and it came out of the blue – but when the disease is in an active state, I would have physical symptoms like a rash,” she said.
“As much as I can keep it in that remission state, I do, and that’s by boring things – rest, eating well, exercise, keeping positive. I take anti-seizure meds now, I take Asprin, there isn’t actually any specific medication or lupus yet, they haven’t found anything. The drugs some women take, I don’t take because they can make you lose hair and they’re quite hardcore.”
Being a model, Robyn’s always maintained a good skincare routine, but her lupus diagnosis means she now has to be extra sun safe, as exposure to the sun can cause flare ups and skin irritation.
“I kind of have to be half vampire now, staying out of the sun, taking care of my skin. You’ll never see me sun bathing, I always have my ‘vampire hat’.”
“I’ve also been using facial oils like L’Occitane’s Overnight Reset Oil-In-Serum ($90) and vitamin E capsules on my scars – I’ve always used face oils but I’m more conscious of being diligent with them now.”
For other women living with lupus, Robyn wants them to know it’s OK to take care of yourself, and that no one’s life looks like their Instagram feed.
“The best advice I can give is try to keep your disease in the remission state as much as you can, don’t let it become active. Stress and other triggers you know are going to activate it, try to avoid them as much as possible. Reach out to people, ask for advice. You’re not alone.”
What does it mean to you when celebrities share the not so beautiful parts of their lives with us on social media?