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Stop the Mannequin Madness

By Joanna Kay--TRIGGER WARNING. THIS PIECE CONTAINS PHOTOS OF VERY THIN MANNEQUINS THAT MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME READERS. 

In this edition of “face-palming moments from the fashion world,” we bring you one of the strangest updates yet: emaciated mannequins.

Yes—apparently not even mannequins are safe from the credo of thin.

Two stores, Topshop and Glassons, a New Zealand clothing store for teenagers and young women, were recently criticized for having mannequins with clearly visible rib bones.

The display horrified people such as eating disorder specialist Anna Drijver, who argued that excessively thin mannequins will negatively affect the young shoppers who see them and think that underweight is the norm.

Unfortunately, these two stores aren’t the first. La Perla, a high-end lingerie store in New York City, removed mannequins from its SoHo boutique last spring because of their visible ribs and hipbones.

Another NYC retailer, Club Monaco, came under fire for displaying mannequins with protruding spines. And in a London Gap a few years ago, a blogger dubbed the stickly mannequins displaying the “Always Skinny” line as, “Famine Fashion Forward.”

 

Why are emaciated mannequins problematic? Mannequins model the clothing we buy. But unlike living, breathing people, mannequins tend to come in just one shape and size. So, more often than not, there will be a difference between the way an outfit looks on the mannequin and the way it looks on a real body. For some, this might lead to the question, “What’s wrong with my body that these clothes don’t look right?”

There is an implicit should behind the blank expression of a mannequin. It illustrates what the garment should look like when it’s on a body instead of a hanger. Now let’s carry that thinking further—in other words, if that’s what the garment “should” look like, then maybe our bodies should look more like these mannequins.

Some might respond that there’s no way that retailers are implying that we should look like mannequins. But then, why bother taking the time to carve ribs and collarbones into a mannequin, rather than leave it as a smooth swath of plaster? What is being communicated through those kinds of aesthetic decisions?

Even so, you may say, wouldn’t banning them be a form of skinny shaming? After all, there are people who are naturally endowed with thin bodies. If we’re truly “body positive,” then we should embrace all body types—curvy and bony alike. Even for mannequins.

Well, yes, actually that’s true. But let’s not put the cart before the proverbial horse. The reality is that we as a society are still under the spell of the thin ideal. Photoshopping is used as much, if not more, than ever (even in videos) and eating disorders remain pandemic in the modeling industry. Those of us who strive to promote body positivity have to shout our messages from the rooftops to be heard over the din of mass media, shrewd advertisers, and powerful retailers.

Right now, it’s about pushback. You might’ve heard of a concept in the therapy world known as opposite action.” If you are trapped in an obsessive thought or behavioral pattern, you reclaim control by doing the opposite. For example, if you are afraid of heights, venture up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Or if public speaking makes you queasy, deliberately speak up in class more. The more you confront your fear, the less power it wields. Maybe you won’t become a motivational speaker or take up mountain climbing, but you will settle into a comfortable middle ground, free from the old anxiety.

If we want a society that embraces genuine body positivity, then we need to employ opposite action. This means pushing back against the ideal of thinness by emphasizing the beauty and value of curviness and bigger bodies. Ultimately, the goal is to find that happy medium where curvy bodies, thin bodies, and every body in between are accepted unquestioningly.

So let’s get rid of the emaciated mannequins, okay? They’re really not helping matters.

About this blogger: Joanna Kay is a New York City writer in recovery from anorexia nervosa. She has written for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), HealthyPlace.com, and other mental health sites. She is also the author of The Middle Ground, a blog that deals with issues facing people who are midway through eating disorder recovery. Find Joanna on Twitter and on her blog.

For more on mannequin activism: 

Activists Ask H&M to Use Plus-Size Mannequins for their Plus-Size Line (Makes Sense, Right?)

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

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