A Case For Plus-Size Mannequins

Last week, Nike unveiled some unique new mannequins in their London store. In a world where these plastic figurines are often criticised for perpetuating unrealistic body standards, the global sports brand chose to introduce a new range that aimed to represent more sizes and physical abilities in a bid to “celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of sport“. Sounds good, right?

Well, one faceless figure in particular has been causing a commotion. Photos of the plus-size mannequin minding their own business in a sports bra and high waisted leggings have been spreading around the internet like wildfire. Whilst my carefully curated Instagram feed has nothing but praise on this matter, sometimes I peek at the comments of a generic news outlet and realise that the trolls are out in full force on this one.

“Selling a dangerous lie”

The argument that displaying plus-sized models in stores or on advertisements is “dangerous” is pedalled out without question any time a brand chooses to cast a model larger than a sample size.

The offensive Tanya Gold – who I can only assume is making a bid to become the next Katie Hopkins – was quick to publish her abrasive views about these mannequins. She claims they are “selling a dangerous lie“, she fears “the war on obesity is lost”, she believes this inanimate figure “heaves with fat” and “cannot run” (I guess this last point is true). Honesty, I cannot read any further into that article because I refuse to hand over the subscription details but you get the picture. Fat = danger. Fat mannequin = SELLING DANGER. What she and many other comment lurkers are saying is they’re not prejudiced, they’re just concerned for public health. Considering that Tanya Gold shared this concern on a Twitter account for which her avatar is her smoking a cigarette, the hypocrisy is real.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, concerns about weight and health are never well-meaning. These people do not care that weight actually tells you very little about someone’s health. No one is losing sleep over the fear that others will suddenly rush to buy all the muffins they can get their hands on now that a sportswear brand has okayed it. They are concerned that the mannequin sets this size in plastic – it’s permanent. That’s what really makes them squirm.

Challenging the thin ideal

In a diet culture world we are constantly reassured that we can shrink and change and control our bodies – it’s just all our fault that we haven’t. So many people spend their lives advocating for the diet industry because it gives them a sense of security that there is a direct road to happiness straight down the notches of the scale. I get it – I’ve been there. I used to fight the corner for the thin-ideal because I wanted everything that I believed those models had. I used to say with a hint of envy “but some people can be naturally thin!” without ever even considering that, by this logic, people could be naturally fat too.

Accepting that some people live in larger bodies means accepting that not everyone can be thin, and honestly I think that is what most fatphobic trolls are finding hard to swallow. To them, these bodies are the kind that should be limited to a ‘before’ photo. Either they want this weight loss fantasy for themselves, or they relish in the superiority of being smaller than others. And then someone comes along with the audacity to say weight is out of our control? That people don’t need to change? That life satisfaction is more complicated? How dare they.

Normalising all bodies

When we see one plus-sized model in the media they stand out from the sea of tall, skinny characters we’re used to. The amount of plus sized models in stores and and on screens is not a representation of the general public – it’s not even close. I feel that when brands repeatedly use models with body types that only represent a small proportion of the population, it’s doing us all a disservice by reinforcing the idea that this body is achievable for anyone. Spoiler alert: people vary. A lot.

Nike’s new mannequins are not here to create a new ‘ideal’ or tell people to change their bodies, they are here to normalise bodies that already exist. Not only bodies that match the mannequins either – hands up who has ever felt personally victimised by retail stores and their inability to cater for more than one body type? This representation is for you, too.

The fact that such an offensive backlash has been published by a news outlet is proof that there’s a lot of work to be done to end weight stigma but I believe the way forward is more normal models. By normal, I mean every single body – we need to make diversity the norm. This plus-size mannequin represents a larger majority of the population than thin ones, yet a photo of this ONE figure that immortalises this size has turned the internet on its head.

Plus-size mannequins shouldn’t stand out or generate criticism – they should be nondescript next to models of various other sizes and features, which is exactly what Nike was trying to achieve. Alone these mannequins are not enough, but they are a step in the right direction.

What do you think about Nike’s new mannequins? Let me know in the comments below

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