Mannequins Make a Statement

Plus-size model Emma Harrison alongside 16D mannequins Picture: Andrew Tauber  Source: Herald Sun
Australian plus-size model Emma Harrison alongside 16D mannequins Picture: Andrew Tauber Source: Herald Sun

Text and photos (below) by Sharon Haywood

Australia has made body image news again. The latest relates to the release of size 16D (US 38D/UK 38DD) mannequins in the lingerie section of the mainstream department store Myers. Back in February, Debenhams department store in London started the movement by using size UK 16 mannequins (US 14/AU 18) in their window displays. In May, the New York Times had a feature about them. Mannequins making headlines feeds an internal discussion I’ve been having with myself about what they really represent.

A few months ago, I began paying closer to attention to the mannequins around me in Buenos Aires. If you’ve read any of my previous posts about Argentina, you know that Buenos Aires has a toxic culture when it comes to body image. Mothers dress to look like their teenage daughters. Anorexia and bulimia is rampant, second only to Japan. Women wanting fashionable clothes over a size US 12/UK 14/AU 16 are hard-pressed to find what they’re looking for. As I started to really notice the models in the windows, I shouldn’t have been shocked. But I was. Mannequins in Buenos Aires have bones. Or at least they’re crafted that way. Well-defined collarbones and noticeable ribs. Check it out:

Argentine mannequins in Buenos Aires
Argentine mannequins in Buenos Aires

I had never consciously thought about mannequins in the past and I couldn’t recall what they looked like in the different countries I had been to. Recently, I spent a week on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. One evening, I headed into the tourist town of Playa de Carmen. What struck me most about the store window models were the male mannequins. Big-bicepped ones. Thankfully, I didn’t see any pelvic bones jutting out beneath the skirts of the female mannequins. A bit more shapely than the Argentine version but still thin:

Mannequins in Playa de Carmen, Mexico
Mannequins in Playa de Carmen, Mexico

Before returning home to Argentina, I spent a week in my hometown of Toronto. Along the trendy but down-to-earth Queen Street West I finally saw a store window that stood out from the rest:

Mannequins in Toronto
Mannequins in Toronto, Canada

Although this window doesn’t include variation in body size, the gorgeous diversity of it made me want to do a little happy dance right on the spot. I couldn’t remember ever seeing a Black mannequin, let alone a Black female mannequin alongside a White one. And if you look closer, they aren’t carbon copies of each other. Each has its own individual traits. Just like real people.

I know mannequins aren’t real, but what they communicate is potent. Mannequins tell us what bodies are acceptable, what bodies are beautiful. I sure like what the mannequins at Myers are saying.

Read more about the full-figured mannequins at Myers here.

Related content:

Debenhams Breaks Fashion Protocol Again

Debenhams Department Store: Bona Fide Diveristy

6 thoughts on “Mannequins Make a Statement

  1. When I worked in retail, we had to fold and pin the (UK) size 6 clothes around the mannequins. It always made me wonder why the store deliberately used mannequins that not only were unfeasibly thin, but also didn’t even showcase their clothes properly! The store sold clothes up to a (UK) size 22….

  2. Interesting article about these non-living yet ever-present entities. I think your point about mannequins telling us what bodies are acceptable and beautiful is powerful. I had never thought of it that way. Thanks.

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