Mannequins, Not Models (this time), Spark Backlash

Glassons, a popular clothing store in New Zealand aimed at young girls and women, recently came under fire for having unacceptable mannequins. There were new mannequins in each store that looked like their ribs were sticking out. An online petition to remove the mannequins gathered 16,000 signatures in only one day. Many women were outraged, saying that the figures promoted unhealthy and unattainable images of women. As one article cited, “Auckland psychotherapist Anna Drijver, who specialises in anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating and overeating, said it was ‘absurd’ to use a mannequin baring ribs.”

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The Glassons Mannequins

First, the retailer issued a statement that was deemed unacceptable by many people:

“Due to the position of the mannequin with the arm elevated and slightly twisted, the rib cage is naturally enhanced as it would be in real life,” Graeme Popplewell, CEO. “The store lighting spotlights also increase this effect.” Seriously?

After even more of a backlash after the above statement was issued, women and health care experts were relieved and felt triumphant that they had gotten the store to issue an apology and remove all such mannequins from their stores. Though it was a victory, many people felt that it was frivolous and unimportant. Even in the apology statement issued, seems to have a catch, dismissing the concerns of women:

“We agree that the mannequins are unacceptable, and we have removed them from all stores. While these mannequins are not new to the business, we have taken on-board the feedback in its entirety, and we unreservedly apologise for any upset we may have caused those who viewed the store displays.” – Hallenstein Glasson CEO, Graeme Popplewell

The inclusion of this statement, which I thought was unnecessary, seems to not only qualify their decision to use the figures, but I feel like it is almost condescending to the women who were offended, saying that they clearly were not in the fashion or retail world.

Though many other people said that models thinness should not offend anyone, that it is a specific body type or that people who demand fuller models are “skinny shaming”, I can tell you that I legitimately feel awful about myself when I compare my body to models or, in this case, to mannequins. The only time I ever was able to see my ribs was shortly before being diagnosed with an eating disorder. Though this may just be triggering for me and “my problem”, almost every single woman I speak to about body image says she feels negatively about herself in comparison to models. Why? Because they set the standard for femininity, and especially editorial models, for high culture and high fashion.

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One thought on “Mannequins, Not Models (this time), Spark Backlash

  1. I found this blog post particularly interesting since my final project is concerned what society views as a “normal” or “beauty” body, specifically in relation to disabled bodies. In my project, I am focusing on the pervasive idea of normativity and what that does to, as you said, isolate and criticize those whose bodies do not fit this mold. As you point out in your post, there is a standard for beauty, one that is usually set by models. These models are in no way representative of the entire population. However, since they are the ones that people see in advertisements and on television, we are meant to identify with them, and therefore do anything we can to try and look like them, even though this is extremely difficult and next to impossible. In my final project, I am analyzing how the presence of those with disabilities in fashion and media seek to subvert the normative standards of beauty. By studying disability and difference in the creation and maintaining of beauty norms, I wish to question how the emergence of disabled representations transcends normative aesthetic beauty. However, while there have been some effort to equally showcase those with disabilities in movies such as Finding Nemo, the majority of these representations seek to reinforce normative beauty standards through a discourse that is filled with pity and spectacle.

    Similar to what Ashley Mears was discussing, certain exceptions to beauty norms are represented and marketed as “edgy” or trendy. These extreme versions of beauty are temporary and seen as just part of the ebb and flow of the fashion industry. Once a statement is made, the fashion industry goes back to the status quo and the aspirational ideals of beauty. For example, as we discussed in class, albino models and models with vitiligo are seen as a beauty trend, but there is not a permanent shift in the business of fashion. Advertising is meant to be relatable, and so these differences in beauty are not ideal. The ability to see oneself represented on the screen and in advertisements is not a luxury or privilege afforded to those with disabilities.

    Pro Infirmis, an organization that advocates for people with disabilities, created a series of mannequins based on real people’s physical disabilities. For example, one of the mannequins was an amputee. They put these mannequins in a real storefront, and caused a lot of discussion as people passed by and looked through the window at these mannequins wearing the store’s clothes. The organization wanted to stress that beautiful does not mean perfect. People need the opportunity to see themselves and to be equally represented in society, and that includes media and fashion. These mannequins were trying to raise the awareness of the prevelance of people that are deemed “different”. Whereas there may be an increase in racial diversity in models and in media representations, there has not been much change in terms of including those with different body types.

    Here is the link to the video/article-
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/03/disabled-mannequins-video_n_4379586.html

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