Over the past year or so there has been an increasing level of interest and media frenzy over the prospect of plus sized mannequins being used nationwide, across high street stores to represent women who are a size 16 and above.
Activists, campaigners and feminist groups have been vocal in getting their voices and their opinions heard. From protesting the London, Berlin and Australian fashion week, to starting online petitions slamming retailers for not including plus sized models in their shops.
In November 2013, Debenhams became the first high street store to launch plus size mannequins on the shop floor, in a bid to promote female body confidence among shoppers.
Whilst it was seen as a long awaited and overdue victory and a success for many who had protested and campaigned against the use of size 10 mannequins in favour of a more representative size 16 counterpart, my question is, has political correctness gone too far or is this merely a positive step and a breakthrough towards equality and diversity.
Over a year after Debenhams announced and unveiled their first set of plus sized mannequins to grace their shop floor, Facebook has seen an influx of posts being shared in favour and in support of more stores following suit and including plus sized mannequins in their displays.
Underneath these posts and pictures being shared, Facebook users have left many comments full of praise and admiration for stores who have gone against the status quo and challenged the public and the media’s perception of beauty and body ideals.
But as someone who believes in equality and diversity and is strongly against discrimination of any type, I fear that trying to find fault without exploring the root of the problem puts us in danger of replacing one narrow minded ideal with another. With a lot of people clearly missing the point that mannequins are dummies to dress up not to idolise.
The first rule of advertising is supply and demand and if a high street fashion retailer such as New Look, Top shop or H&M make most of their profit from their smaller sizes then it makes sense for mannequins to be representative of the customer they are trying to attract.
When you give people or objects the power to make you happy you are also giving them the power to take that happiness away. Mannequins aren’t there to make you feel better about yourself. They are not there to shame you into losing weight or show you how you would look if you were a size 8.
Mannequins are sales aids, aimed at highlighting and showcasing the products in the store.
Whenever I’ve gone to any high street shop to look for clothes in my size. The size 8-10 is almost always sold out and the clothes which are left are usually always the size 16+.
It’s not anything to do with discrimination it just happens to be the sizes that are less in demand.
So having plus size mannequins in a shop where it makes it’s profit from its smaller sizes would make as much sense as a shop that sells mens clothes having their items worn by female mannequins. The mannequins reflect on the buyer and if the plus size clothes are in less demand then it makes sense for the mannequins to be representative of this.
Another example of this is during the January sales. I went into new look to have a look at what was on sale. Nearly all the clothes that were a size 8, 10 and even a 12 were sold out and the only clothes left were a size 16 and above.
Some of the shops I visit have mannequins without a face and some have mannequins without hair. Are these mannequins discriminatory to people with a face and with hair? I think not.
Featuring plus sized mannequins is the start of a slippery slope, as you then have people who will argue that the plus size mannequins have flat stomachs, when actually a better representative would be if the mannequins had cellulite, bigger bellies and we’re shorter in height.
Which leads me on to the point that mannequins are just a visual aid, to showcase and display usually the newest or most popular items in stock. They are not supposed to represent you personally. It would be impossible and unrealistic to expect every mannequin to be an accurate representation of every person.
Mannequins aren’t there to promote body image or a healthy size they only have one aim in mind and that is to promote the clothes the shop is trying to sell.
Many of the people backing the plus sized campaign believe that the standard size 10 mannequins, cause consumers to suffer from ‘body image issues’ as they set themselves ‘unrealistic expectations.’
Plus sized model Alex Larosa, goes as far as saying, ‘You’re telling women, “You want to look like these models. This is what you should look like, but it’s never going to happen.”‘
However, I believe that if you feel insecure about a size 10 mannequin made from plastic then maybe your issues are more deep rooted and unlikely to be solved by shops including plus size mannequins in their stores.
If you are truly happy with your size and appearance then you don’t need approval or validation from a plastic mannequin or a corporate store to tell you, that you are beautiful.
People need to ask themselves if using a wider range of mannequins will really help improve their body confidence, or whether the real issue lies within body image and beauty and how it is potrayed in the media.
Forgetting the argument of plus sized mannequins promoting unhealthy ideals, obesity and overlooking the associated health problems stemming from being overweight and not leading a healthy lifestyle. You then have the argument of replacing one ideal with another.
The question is where will we draw the line and what next. Mannequins in wheelchairs? Mannequins with deformities? Mannequins from different nationalities? Will we have to have mannequins wearing a burka or a native american indian headress to represent the minorities?
Some people are gay, some people are black, some are white and some are fat. Some people have long hair and some have none. It doesn’t mean that mannequins in the shops have to reflect this in order to portray an accurate representation of the people who shop in store.
So my next question is this. Is having plus size mannequins included in stores really achieving what campaigners set out to achieve, or have these campaigners unwittingly turned the campaign into a novelty and a fad, overlooking the real reasons as to why there is such an issue regarding female body image and self esteem instead creating an opportunity for corporate retailers who are looking for publicity to gain popularity and financial gain.
Campaigners argue that current size 10 mannequins are not representative of the average woman in the UK. But if the average woman in the UK is overweight at a size 16, then what good does it do to push for mannequins which are at an average but unhealthy ideal.
In many cases being a size 16 + is considered overweight and shouldn’t be encouraged. We now live in an age where being ‘average’ size is being ‘overweight.’ Having plus sized mannequins trivialises this and overlooks the fact that as a nation we are putting on more weight.
If shops were to include size 16 mannequins would that also mean that to avoid being discriminatory and to represent people on the other end of the spectrum that they should also include mannequins which are a size 6?
If this campaign is based purely on providing an equal representation of body size then surely we should also be campaigning for size 4 mannequins and mannequins which are size 30 to represent people who are obese.
In an increasingly politically correct world, it is becoming harder to please and almost impossible to not upset or offend people. The problem is that people will always find something to be outraged by and people will always find a reason to complain.
In this case I don’t think the inclusion of plus size mannequins is a victory or a step closer towards equality.
I think this gives us the message that as a society we are still very much fixated on how we look. I take from this, the fact that people long for and crave approval in order to feel accepted into society.
I see people who base their self worth and sense of self on what society says is acceptable.
Why should we give the media and corporations the power to set the standard of what we should look like.
On the whole, we still have a long way to go before we appreciate that true beauty and intelligence goes beyond the external.
Having other people’s approval shouldn’t equate to how you feel about yourself and should never validate your worth!