A few years ago a 25-year-old customer at popular high street fashion retailer Top Shop made headlines when she complained about the ridiculous proportions of their shop mannequins. Mainly, how utterly unrealistic they were, and the potential damage that could do. This debate raged for quite a while, with many campaigning for the widespread introduction of plus-sized mannequins and the redesign of these unrealistic standard sizes ones.
Well, earlier this year the debate flared to life again, with one journalist taking to Twitter to express her disgust at the Fabletics store on Regent Street. What had the store done wrong that was so heinous that it deserved a public telling-off, you might ask?
They put a plus-sized mannequin in the store window. And here’s why we think they were 100% right to do it.
The Problem With Mannequins
Mannequins have always been a problem in fashion retail for one big reason. They’re designed to sell clothes. This means making the clothes look as good as possible on the mannequin so that people are enticed to buy – despite the fact that the mannequin’s sizes and proportions might not be in any way related to reality. Their job is to symbolise what the shopper could look like if they bought the clothes. But the way they are designed means that will never be a reality, and this can distort the way people see themselves and what they perceive as a normal, healthy body shape.
The mannequin that initially sparked public outrage had originally been modelled on a size 10 woman, but its proportions had been altered to give it more ‘visual impact’. This included lengthening the legs and drawing in the waist to unrealistic proportions. This made clothing sit better on it and grabbed the attention of anyone walking by. Already this is problematic, but it gets worse, because it wasn’t just Top Shop.
It was soon discovered that some chains were displaying mannequins with waists as small as 23 inches. To put that in perspective, according to the UK National Sizing Survey the average British woman (size 12) has a waist size of 33 inches, with even those wearing a size eight having a waist measurement of 28 inches. So these mannequins were displaying dimensions that were close to impossible to achieve for a healthy person. Other retailers have been criticized for using mannequins with concave stomachs, protruding ribs and physically impossible thigh gaps, all to make their clothing look good. Needless to say this is incredibly harmful, but particularly so to younger shoppers who are more vulnerable to developing eating disorders as a result of not feeling ‘normal’ by fashion standards.
The Mannequin Effect
On the surface you might not think it’s that serious, and that mannequins really don’t have that much of an impact. But let us ask you this. What of the 14-year-old girl who looks upon these mannequins with admiration and envy? What message is that sending to women, who look at these unrealistic models and feel sadness that their bodies don’t look the same?
Journalist Isabel Oakeshott tweeted that the Fabletics shop mannequin was ‘what obesity looks like. Flabby curves highlighted in hideous lime green velour.’ She also went on to call the body-positivity movement dangerous, and not inclusive as it claims. While she is within her rights to comment on the outfit choice (lime green velour wouldn’t be our choice either, but each to their own), her attitude highlights how insidious fatphobia is, and how much deep damage seeing nothing but super-skinny mannequins for decades has already done.
Can Things Change?
Yes! That’s exactly what the campaign to ditch the super skinny mannequins is all about. Disproportionate ‘super skinny’ mannequins give the wrong impression of body shape to women and young girls, some of whom idealize looking this way. Mannequins like these are incredibly damaging and are a by-product of the fashion industry’s search for the idealized female body on which to flaunt their clothes. Women come in all shapes and sizes, making variety the key to selling clothes to real women. Campaigner Laura Betty was also featured on Woman’s Hour, where she talked about her new campaign for clothes shops to have consistent sizing, instead of loose rules and ‘vanity’ sizing.
The great news is that since that initial argument there has been some progress in the world of mannequin sizing. It’s been slow progress, but it’s still progress, and the mannequin in the Fabletics shop front is absolutely a symbol of that. And if you need more proof that the choice to use ‘super skinny’ mannequins is entirely driven by companies and not consumers, go ahead and read some of the replies to that tweet (it’s just here). The message given by the community is fairly united – ‘this is a normal human body shape, and we want to see it celebrated, not shamed.’
At Elle Courbee we’re all about making sure you feel your best no matter what your size or shape. We believe that all body types are beautiful, and you deserve to have yours celebrated as much as anyone else. And while we don’t have mannequins (since we’re not a physical store), we’re committed to keeping our online shop models varied and representing all plus-size body types. If there’s something you’d like to see more of, or you have some feedback for us, we would love to hear it!