Do We Look Like Plastic to You?

I’m no stranger to the ideal image of the female body set by mainstream media and projected –in part– by the presentation of mannequins in retail stores. When I walk through stores such as Garage, Aritzia, or Urban Outfitters I’m quick to note that none of the displayed mannequins are a direct representation of the female body, nor are these representations wholly accurate. I am well aware that these mannequins are built in a stylized way, meant to advertise articles of clothing in the most appealing manner. I think that this is where the problem lies, in the shape and style of this manufactured body that dictates what looks good and what does not on the body of a live person.

But, walking through my regular lineup of plus-sized stores, I’m beginning to notice a similar trend.

For a large part of my life I have shopped in plus-sized stores, and it wasn’t until recently that I began to notice the presentation of mannequins in stores such as Reitmans, Addition Elle or Penningtons, and particularly the way in which these mannequins are fashioned so that the clothing drapes perfectly from their manufactured limbs. I encountered this issue in Reitmans when I found an appealing dress displayed on a mannequin and I brought the dress to the change room to try on, only to be severely disappointed when the dress looked nothing like it did on the mannequin when it was on me. It clung in all the wrong places and it cut me off at the knees, making my legs appear shorter and bulkier –nothing like the sharp, sophisticated looking mannequin.

After this disappointment, I found myself before said mannequin again, observing it intently, comparing what this piece of plastic had that I didn’t. She was tall with long legs and beneath her dress I traced the smooth, trim and uniform lines of a “plus-size” model that should really be titled as “husky.” There was no infamous “muffin-top” or dreaded “spare tire”; there were no bulky calves or widened thighs; and there were no pear, apple, or oval shaped bodies represented. Looking around the store at every mannequin, I found that they all had the same body shape: hourglass.

From what the mannequins reveal, it is obvious that the ideal body shape for petite women is thin, narrow and tall –like the runway models, but for plus-size women, the ideal body shape is an hourglass figure.

It seems to me that the ideals set by mainstream media for the female body type are being projected onto the representative mannequins in plus-sized stores, where all the apparent “imperfections” on a plus-size female body are smoothed away, much like the mannequins in petite size stores.

So why should this matter? Mannequins are a product utilized for advertisement; they are used to appeal to as large of an audience as possible in order to sell the displayed article of clothing. In order to make sales, retailers are using this ideal body image to sell their products –to project this mentality of “if I buy this item, I will be the mannequin.” It’s a marketing ploy that preys upon an ingrained desire to be a part of the norm. This misrepresentation suggests that selling these products to the masses is more important than “selling” the notion of a varied female body image by advertising clothing that will flatter other body shapes aside from hourglass or tall and thin.

A similar idea was posed by Becky Hopper who tweeted a photo of her friend standing next to a mannequin in Topshop. The friend is a size 8/10 by UK standards, by no means overweight, and her legs are considerably larger in size compared to the mannequin. Hopper suggested that Topshop should consider varying the sizes and shapes of the mannequins, in order to represent as many body types as possible.

The issue isn’t with the general representation of a woman’s body but with the media’s method of advertising that there is only one body type worth having and that all women should strive to fit into that carved out slot where you’re either at one end of the spectrum, or you’re not. There is no in between.

There is also issue with the retailer’s method for manipulating the ideal body shape and using it as a sales method by appealing to those desires of women to be just another plastic model and selling these women clothes which they hope will give them the body shape they desire.

Women of petite and plus sizes come in many shapes, sizes and heights. They are not made of plastic. They are not differentiated by serial number. They are not mannequins.

And neither am I.


Bri Stephen is an English and Professional Writing student at York University. In her spare time you can find her holed up in her room trying to juggle the million story ideas that float around in her head all day. Find her and excessive pictures of her cats on Instagram.

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