The photo below was posted onto my Facebook newsfeed tonight, along with over 1500 comments and almost 38k likes. I’m going to go out there and say a rough estimate of 90% of comments were in favour of the mannequins. I disagreed, and here’s why:
As much as I am anticipating hateful or negative comments suggesting I am promoting anorexia or lack a realistic view of the female figure, I’ll say now that this is not the case. All the ‘real women’ campaigns that have sprung up in the last few years are great, regulating professional modelling to ensure young people are a healthy weight is fantastic. These plastic figures, however, are not.
Try picturing this: you are shopping for a new pair of glasses. Instead of models on posters in the window of Specsavers being beautiful young people, in romantic locations, looking dreamy, etc, etc, there are photos of children being picked on at school because of their glasses. Imagine a promotion for facewash featuring a spotty teenager. Imagine children aspiring to a Barbie who has a face of acne and comes with a clinical body odour solution instead of a tiny perfume and hairbrush. Do these ideas sound ridiculous because they’re unrealistic, or because they’re unattractive and would never promote sales of a product?
When we go shopping, for anything, we want to feel happy. We want to imagine ourselves feeling more attractive when using/wearing/eating the product we have bought and feel better for parting with our money for it. If I go to buy a new set of underwear, I want the word ‘sexy’ to come to mind (depending on the underwear of course, flowery knickers excluded), not ‘cuddly’, ‘round’, or ‘frumpy’. But this is exactly what these mannequins are promoting. They have completely bypassed the stage of marketing and clumsily jumped from a popular media campaign to the forefront of shop windows quicker than you can say ‘Dove skincare’.
By using these mannequins in shops, fashion brands are not going to be saying, ‘imagine yourself looking your best in this’, they won’t fill you with images of receiving compliments on your new dress at the weekend, they will instead be saying ‘wear this garment and you’ll look just about the same as you do now’, leaving no reason to buy the garment, which surely can’t be a good thing for sales.
The whole real women campaign we saw from so many supporters of its message is now having its meaning blurred. When Dove started out the idea, they used women from a size 6-14 in their adverts, and size was far from the only issue raised. They looked at wrinkled skin, grey hair, the lot. But weight was the one that grabbed the headlines with all its force and left the rest behind in the dust.
Mannequins are not about our real self images, but an emphasised version of the age-old message that thin is better than fat. Size 16+ may be more ‘real’ if we go on numbers of women, but when we ask what women desire to be, almost all say ‘thinner’. At the end of the day that is just the way it works, just as we agree sun is better than rain. We can promote rain all we like, but nobody is going to be convinced to favour clouds over a blue sky. We want to be slim, we don’t want wrinkles or grey hair, and unless we’re going to start promoting equality of all appearances in such a way that it becomes an issue of over the top political correctness, then we should leave the real curves on the real people, not the plastic ones.