It all started on Sunday when a friend sent me a link to this page. According to the article, H&M in Sweden introduced mannequins in sizes 6 and 10 (pictured left). The comment under the photo, attributed to RHUer, states that “some are saying they [H&M] condone obesity.”
For those of us who have had it with the ridiculously unsustainable and even unattainable body ideal that has been foisted upon women of late, them’s fighting words!
I was quick to post this on my Facebook wall and on the blog’s Facebook page. Friends were equally quick to let me know that The Washington Post reported it as a hoax. As it happens, it’s not a hoax. The WP has issued a correction.
The renewed interest came lately because a Canadian radio station posted the pictures on its Facebook page and the images got over 600,000 “likes” and went viral.
It doesn’t take a genius to explain why. So many women posted “ahem!” type posts about finally seeing mannequins in realistic sizes. Lots of comments noted that size 6 and 10 are nowhere near obese.
We have been conditions to see mannequins that wear the smallest sizes. Super-models are selected for how well they can resemble mannequins. And then this all gets twisted around so that super-models become the standard feminine beauty ideal. Tall, thin, and featureless, like mannequins.
Putting realistically sized mannequins in store windows and then having them labelled “obese” is good evidence of how harshly our cultural gaze judges women’s bodies. The fact that so many women felt relieved and pleased at the site of these mannequins demonstrates just how urgently so many of us are feeling the need for a shift in cultural expectations and standards for women’s bodies.
Sam and I have written a lot about this issue and will no doubt continue to have lots to say. The attention these mannequins have received, even if it came three years later than the original post, is a good sign that we are not voices crying in the wilderness. Women are ready for a change.
I’d like to reiterate what a few commentators have emphasized: these are not PLUS sized mannequines. Even size 6 is quite thin and small, and 10 is about average (in fact, a little search around the internet turns up women’s dress size averages in North America ranging from 11 to 14). Our views and expectations of women’s bodies (of our own bodies) are distorted.
I hope the next generation of young women can grow up in a more reasonable world where size and body image is concerned. I chatted with a young woman in the locker room at yoga the other day about her struggles with body image (she was reading a book by Geneen Roth called Women, Food, and God, and I asked her about it). She told me about the ease with which her mother would throw out comments about her (the young woman) needing to lose a few pounds. The young woman has never felt good about her body and is desperate for a change.
This interaction reminded me, as if I need reminding, that culture-wide we have such a distorted view of the body that even beautiful and enviably fit young women are painfully self-conscious and full of self-loathing about their bodies. I touched on this in my discussion of the two different locker rooms not too long ago. It also made me sad because we have a right to love ourselves, period.
The comment frenzy around these non-size zero mannequins fills me with hope. Maybe we actually have had it. Maybe the beauty ideal is about ready to change.