It is pretty common to see mannequins in store windows with an alien-like thinness, their tall willowy bodies and emotionless faces looking down on you. However, when window-shopping the other day, I happened to notice mannequins posing in a lingerie store’s window, all of whom had very visible ribs.
It’s bad enough that mannequins often have very visible nipples (why are they always turned on or freezing?), but these mannequins look as underfed as real high-fashion models. Models have been the bane of many a girl’s existence, especially when going through puberty lacking self-esteem. But now— though it's probably not new— with these ribbed mannequins, fashion is yet again reinforcing that Skinny Rules, even in your local department stores like Club Monaco.
Mannequins are supposed to be representatives of how people should look, yet the clothes always seem to fit better on them than they do on actual people— probably because they are often pinned perfectly to the mannequin’s shape, which is smaller than the sizes of clothing offered. Much of the high fashion industry tailors their clothes to thin models, or rather they make the clothes and the models have to squeeze in to them or cut back on the carbs. A king of the fashion world, Karl Lagerfeld, has famously spoke out against real-looking women, saying that “No one wants to see curvy women. You've got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.” He said this in response to Brigitte, a top German women’s magazine, saying that it would only feature “real women” because readers complained they could not identify with the models. Real-looking women in this case qualify with a BMI of 18, or if they are 5'11" they must be at least 130 pounds, as opposed to models like this:
Lagerfeld’s hatred of “fat” women is not surprising in the least, but mannequins are representing the same malnourished women as those in the fashion industry. Lagerfeld has also said that the fashion world is one of fantasy, so that could mean that these thin models are an element of the fantasy. As messed up as those poor under-fed models are, their body type is now being represented in popular culture as if it were the norm. Once high fashion finally trickles down to the department stores, it looses it’s initial magic of the big name designer, but never lets us regular-sized people forget that we would look better if we were as thin as the mannequins. How are real women supposed to relate to what clothing stores present to us when we can’t identify with mannequins so thin you can see their ribs?
Not only is this a major downer in the self-esteem department, but younger girls are even more affected by images of stick-thin models. When playing with a totally out of proportion Barbie doll, she can’t help but compare herself to the leggy blonde with a full bustline. But if this doll also had visible ribs, wouldn’t she question why that was necessary? Moreover, wouldn’t a parent be outraged, refuse to buy that doll, and maybe call the company to complain of the unrealistic representations of women?
I would hope so. We might be stuck in a society where thinness and sensuality is worshipped, but there are a few people changing how we look at ourselves. The readers who complained to Brigitte changed the entire look of the magazine, much to Lagerfeld’s pooh-pooh. More American companies, media outlets, and stores need to recognize that there are probably only a handful of women who are of a model’s or mannequin’s proportions, and they need to represent real women, no matter how ugly Lagerfeld thinks they are. Dove’s ads that show women of all ages and sizes is a rarity among real representations of women, even if it is just a genius marketing scheme and can occasionally be a little hypocritical. But real beauty like that of the Dove women is celebrated, so why can’t we have mannequins that represent our population? Yes, they are supposed to sell the clothes and look good doing it, but why not have them vary in size so women don’t think they have to live off of nuts and twigs or Diet Coke and lettuce just to fit into the latest styles. Must we be reminded of who is actually buying the clothes?
If we don’t refuse to consume things that misrepresent real women and worship only thin women, as well as let companies know that it isn’t okay, we can only expect to see more girls starving themselves, just so they can look like the mannequins in a store window, who are possibly even thinner than the high-fashion models. Mannequins should represent the women who are buying clothes that they are modeling. But which comes first: the model or the mannequin?
***Without ignoring the seriousness of models or anyone with an eating disorder, I realize that actual people's lives are more important than mannequins but thought this development in mannequin shape would help illustrate the incredible widespread obsession with thinness, especially for those like me who are totally removed from the world of fashion and models. For help recovering from anorexia or other eating disorders call National Eating Disorders help line: 1-800-931-2237.***
UPDATE: New model (middle) photo that isn't photoshopped. Thanks "fols" for pointing that out. Isabelle Caro did this ad campaign after she was told to loose 20 pounds to model, then went into a coma from starvation, and is currently recovering.