The mannequin debacle: the cold, hard, size 16 truth


Last week it was announced that Debenhams would be introducing size 16 mannequins to stores across the UK, a move which was initially met with praise. The store was seen as promoting the progression of changing attitudes towards body image within the fashion world. ‘Progress’ is a big word in my book, thrown around like Carrie Bradshaw’s Louboutins, and personally I saw this move as an attempt to pacify the public, rather than challenge the fashion houses.

The average British woman is size 16; she has curves and a bum and yes, this should be represented by the clothing displays in shops and in advertising campaigns. Funny thing is that these mannequins don’t resemble the women they hope to appeal to. Cold, hard plastic can never mimic skin or flesh and pert bums and boobs are not owned by us all, so why try to sell this image of plus-size beauty which isn’t a realistic representation of a size 16 woman?

These flat-stomached mannequins look like a stretched version of their size 8 counterparts; totally unrealistic and a little strange to look at. What’s more, this abnormal shape does not help the thousands of ‘Miss and Mrs Average’ buy clothes to suit their body shape. Hourglass curves aren’t enhanced by frozen, flat stomachs and most of us wouldn’t dream of buying new leggings without checking how much bum wobble was on show, so how can these mannequins be representative?

However, the most pressing question for me is why Debenhams? Granted, its customer base is of the more womanly variety, but body image and confidence issues define many girls’ teenage years and the department store is hardly a Mecca of young, alternative fashion (sorry Debenhams). Why haven’t we seen a similar move by Topshop? A store with sizes so small, jumping up a dress size is the norm, or River Island, whose skintight midi skirts leave those of us without Spanx short of breath? Head into any high street store today and you’re faced with tall, lean women resembling Cara Delevigne on a diet. Shopping almost makes me hungry, or at least keen to feed the tiny cropped top assistants and models.

Yes, some women are born willowy and athletic. Lucky them. I’m not saying rip the photos down of Suki Waterhouse looking lush in a ad campaign and please don’t attempt to burn the size 6 bralets and pinafore dresses. All I’m asking for is a little representation for the more voluptuous gal, with stores using mannequins actually designed to look like a size 16 or above and magazine spreads which include a more realistic figure of modern society.

As a side note I’d just like to point out to Debenhams, or any other stores attempting to ‘wave the white flag’ in regards to a positive body image, women, believe it or not, aren’t stupid. When we spend money those ‘skin-saving’ creams, it’s only as an excuse to buy sparkly nail varnish in Boots, or we try that fad diet so we can go and buy lentils from the dreamboat in the health food shop. We don’t actually BELIEVE these methods will work. It’s the same principle with mannequins. Show us a heavily doctored mannequin, supposed to represent a size 16 woman, which has a flat stomach and we won’t automatically buy your wares.

So Debenhams, well done for trying, but don’t treat us woman like imbeciles. Use a real body shape to promote a better body image, rather than an over-sized Barbie and your message may get somewhere. In the meantime I’m off to buy a Mars Bar.

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