Plus size mannequins – a campaign too big for its boots

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’.

plus size mannequinsBy 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.

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4 thoughts on “Plus size mannequins – a campaign too big for its boots

  1. I can see your point but I have to say that I think these models are much more realistic looking. I’m a size 10/12 and I am often put off the clothes that are displayed on the size 6 models because they look nothing like that on me. I think the models may persuade more women to try clothes on that they would otherwise be put off because the assume that it won’t suit their body shape. I also think it is healthy for society to recognise that a size 6/8 isn’t the norm, the average size for women in the UK is a size 16. I have also found that a lot of shops have been selling clothes 2 or even 3 sizes smaller than they claim to be, e.g. a top labelled a ’14’ is actually a 10 or an 8 and I think it is shocking that shops are doing this, they need to recognise that the large majority of people they are selling to aren’t going to fit into their tiny sizes even though they claim to be bigger.

    1. They are much more realistic looking, but that’s my point. We don’t always need to be faced with a realistic image in order to see the best of something. Shopping for clothes from a retail point of view is about maximising the customers’ experience, and pointing out that they’re not slim, right to the point that the shop needs to physically illustrate it, just seems to treat women with the caution of a school child.

      Fashion has always used slim mannequins, and women have always been bigger than them. We shouldn’t need plastic figures to demonstrate what we already know. Mannequins aren’t supposed to be realistic, especially when you think of the ones that come in bright colours or with no heads!

      1. Haha yeah that’s true! I think I would just feel more comfortable shopping if the sizes and mannequins were more realistic, I hate going clothes shopping because I have to try on about three different sizes and nothing ever looks the same on as it is presented on a stick thin mannequin or model and then I find it more upsetting that I don’t look like the mannequin, which is why I don’t think it would be upsetting to see more ‘normal’ looking mannequins – surely it would be nicer to walk in and think ‘ooh that would suit me’ or even ‘I feel good because I’m thinner than that model’ rather than leaving frustrated because you aren’t built like the current unrealistic plastic dummies.

  2. I agree with Hannah, though my reason to buy a dress is that I like the dress, not that a mannequin makes it look like I would look at my best in it, which can’t be since I’m perfectly aware to be a curvy size 10/12 and not a mannequin. I don’t think there can’t be changes in the way we market products based on how the sensibility of customers evolve. People now base their purchase decisions on bloggers too, not only traditional media, and bloggers are far from being the type of models you see on fashion magazines.
    Fashion marketing is not about promoting “thin is better than fat”, it’s about promoting “this dress will make you fabulous” whichever size you are. Marketers generally don’t sell rain to people who like the sun, they sell holidays to Hawaii to people who like the sun because our sun is better than theirs. So yeah, I’m not a fan of political correctness but I think this is a smart move. The fact things have never been like that is not a good reason for me to think things should stay the same if something in your target changes, and I think the trend now is to be accepting and inclusive. If we talk about creating a positive experience in women who go shopping I totally see it created the way Hannah says, not by setting impossible expectations with unreal mannequins.

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