I recently had a need for some new professional clothing, and I went from shop to shop in the local mall looking at my options. In every store window were mannequins, white and plastic and slender.Not like me. I’m big boned and curvy. Every time I would see a cute outfit, I would find that when I tried it on it looked nothing like it had on the mannequin.
But then, I was so used to seeing mannequins like these—tall and skinny—that I directed my annoyance at my body, not at the mannequins. The problem was that I was too fat, not that the skinny mannequins had given me an unrealistic idea of what I would look like in the clothing.
This changed when I came to a store named Maurice’s. It was then that I stopped and stared. While some of the mannequins in Maurice’s’ store window were the standard type, others were not. These other mannequins, quite simply, looked like me. And that meant so much to me that I quite intentionally patronized that store rather than the others.
This got me thinking.
First, I can’t be the only woman who finds it so very annoying to see a cute outfit on a mannequin only to try it on and find that on my curvy body, it looks nothing like I’d been led to expect. Most mannequins are a size 4 or 6 while the average American woman is a size 14. How are such slender mannequins a good marketing choice? Wouldn’t it be better to give women a realistic idea of what that outfit will look like on their body? It seems that stores with this sort of mannequin sell an ideal, and lead women like me to respond by seeing our bodies as problems to be despised.
Second, I may be curvy, but I’m otherwise not that unlike the typical mannequins. I’m white and I’m able bodied. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a mannequin in a wheelchair, and while I have seen black mannequins they are both not all that common and just as slender as the white mannequins. In other words, my growing annoyance that most mannequins are nothing like me—i.e., curvy—is only the tip of the iceberg compared to what other women farther from the norm must experience.
And so I have to wonder. What would storefronts look like if the mannequins that filled them actually reflected the true diversity of women, from body type to skin color? If women could look through store windows and know that they would see women like them, how would that effect their body image?