Monday 3 December 2018

Shop Mannequins, Weight, and Body Image

"We became interested in this topic after seeing some news report about members of the general public noticing that some mannequins in fashion stores were disturbingly thin. Around the same time we had also read news coverage that fashion retailers had responded to this concern and adopted more appropriate sized mannequins, so it felt like an interesting research question to examine. Our survey of these two high streets in the UK produced consistent results; the body size of female mannequins represented that of extremely underweight human women."
Eric Robinson

"Mannequins communicate more than we might think about attitudes to body image in any given era." Lucy Wallis
In the early 20th century, there was a more diverse range of body types which was also reflected by shop mannequins; larger ones were a "hangover from the Victorian era". Pierre Iman's mannequins were flat-chested with a pear shape and wide hips, three were size 46 (UK 18) and looked middle-aged. In the 1930s, mannequins became more uniform in size and embodying the then beauty ideals. In the 1950s, their waistlines were small, hips rounded, busts were high and shoulder were sloping. And in the noughties, a decade defined by cosmetic surgery, slim mannequins got sort of breast implants, too (via). Mannequins have been used for a relatively long time. The notion that their size can impact women's (and growingly men's) attitude to their body image and have a negative effect on their satisfaction due to social comparison, however, is largely unexplored (Cohen, 2014).
"We of course are not saying that altering the size of high street fashion mannequins will on its own 'solve' body image problems. What we are instead saying is that presentation of ultra-thin female bodies is likely to reinforce inappropriate and unobtainable body ideals, so as a society we should be taking measures to stop this type of reinforcement. Given that the prevalence of body image problems and disordered eating in young people is worryingly high, positive action that challenges communication of ultra-thin ideal may be of particular benefit to children, adolescents and young adult females."
Eric Robinson
Findings of an online survey carried out among 325 women aged between 18 and 75 indicate that it is primarily women with a higher, "non-ideal" Body Mass Index who compare themselves with mannequins displayed in shop windows. And the greater the discrepancy between their and the mannequin's body, the more thin bodies are idealised and the more their body dissatisfaction grows (Cohen, 2014).

"One of the big – and I’ve been talking about this forever – is it all becomes invisible in a way because we're so used to it, and if its brought to people's attention, that sort of breaks through the clutter. I think it's pretty freakish for ribs to be showing."
Jean Kilbourne, former model and body image advocate

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- Cohen, A. (2014). Mannequin Size on Consumers' Perception of Self and Satisfaction with Fit. University of South Carolina, link
- Robinson, E. & Aveyard, P. (2017). Emaciated mannequins: a study of mannequin body size in high street fashion stores. Journal of Eating Disorders, 5(1), ScienceDaily
- More: What an unusual Swedish mannequin reveals about body image, Washington Post, read
- More: Life imitates art: How shop mannequins have influenced body image, read
- photograph by Ernst Haas via