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:
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:
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:
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.