The above photos are from Swedish department store Åhléns. While they have been incorrectly linked to H&M, the mannequins are unique to this department store. This story first broke in October 2010, by Rebecka Silvekroon on her blog Becka.nu. She states that the story is important because “we need to change the way most super skinny mannequins look! Walk in to any fashion store around the world and you will see mannequins with a tiny waist and flat stomach. That is not how normal people look! Let us try to change the way retailers think when they are about to purchase new mannequins. And let’s try to change the way mannequins are produced by manufacturers. Simply put, let us try to change the world of fashion, one small image at a time!”
Then, the Facebook page “Women’s Rights News” posted a picture of the mannequin to Facebook and generated a tremendous response from social media users.
“It’s about time reality hit … ” one of nearly 2,500 commenters said. “Anybody saying these mannequins encourage obesity or look unhealthy … [has] a seriously warped perception of what is healthy,” another shared. “I guarantee the ‘bigger’ mannequin in the front there represents a perfect BMI.”
Mannequins have been criticized by many for their unhealthy-looking frames. In 2007, a British health official demanded that high-fashion London stores ditch the stick-thin figurines for mannequins that represented a wide range of shapes and sizes, Yahoo reported.
“We have the same kind of doll in all our stores”, says Ann Almqvist, store manager at Åhléns City, Malmö to Sydsvenskan. “We are the only chain in Sweden that currently have them”.
“Since several years back we have mannequins in different sizes, because all our customers are different,” says Therèse Johnsson Sundberg, deputy CIO at Åhléns, to Aftonbladet.
“For us, it is quite natural, we try to reflect how it looks in society “. Our customers look different and therefore we use mannequins in different sizes. We actually sell a lot better with these dolls, says Monica Hultgren, Communications Officer at Åhléns to DN.
Silvekroon’s hope is that the unexpected uproar will give other retailers the courage to challenge stereotypical “size 0” depictions of women. “It would be nice if it got retailers to start using real, beautiful women in their commercials, catwalks and stores,” she says.
What we need is a mixture of different heights and widths of mannequins in our shops to reflect the reality of peoples’ different shapes, sizes and build.
Although the mannequins in the majority of retailers’ windows are a size 10 they are generally taller than the average woman and with the addition of heels create an unrealistically long and lean image. According to the Chicago Tribune, most mannequins are 6 inches taller, and 6 sizes smaller than the average person.
These images are unachievable in the main and can provide unhelpful pressure causing women to compare their own bodies unfavorably.
“Well done to the department store [Åhléns]”, said feminist author and founder of Endangered Bodies, Susie Orbach.
“There’s too much focus on one image. We all come in different sizes, shapes, colours and heights, and thank goodness for that!”
Sophie Bennet, spokesman for women’s rights charity, Object, added: “Women and girls are constantly under pressure to worry about what they look like.”
“Advertising, the media, music videos, video games all perpetuate the myth that, for women, to be beautiful is to be young, white or light-skinned, able-bodied and thin, pressurising women to define success by how they look rather than what they have achieved.”
“This has a negative impact on women’s self esteem, promoting the idea that women are valued only on the basis of their appearance.”
“The introduction of more diverse mannequins would be a positive step forward in challenging sexist representations of women and the sex object culture which promotes them.”