Fat Mannequins … So Wrong

No matter what size we really are, don't we still want to be shown the ideal?

I just returned from a trip to the mall where I passed a new lingerie store with a window display filled with silky underwear on mannequins. Not unusual. Except these weren’t your standard-issue mannequins. They were the new and improved mannequins—the Rubenesque variety. Why is it that new and improved is rarely improved? These mannequins were right up there with New Coke.

Perhaps political correctness has gone too far when we have to increase the size of our mannequins to look more like the population. The problem is a simple marketing issue. On larger, round-bellied mannequins, the lingerie looks as unfortunate as it does on the rest of us. If we’re honest, bras and panties look a lot better in a size 2 than a 14. There’s a reason for using skinny models in advertising: The clothes hang well. Even if we ourselves are not perfect mannequins, don’t we secretly like to suspend disbelief when we see a cute store window display and convince ourselves that the clothes would look as good on us? There is nothing particularly desirable about lacy underwear when it’s stretched over broad, white plastic hips. If this sounds weightist, it isn’t. It’s faux weightist. We are talking about plastic, headless marketing tools, after all.

The other marketing problem is that I really don’t want to buy things that are shown on a large or plus-size shape, because it takes me to the dark side. PC or not, a negative connotation is now attached to the clothing. Either the item is designed specifically for large sizes or there is an irrational fear that additional cellulite comes with the outfit. It didn’t matter that they stuck a few skinny mannequins between the bigger ones. The damage was done. Once I saw the harsh reality model, I walked away. To lure people in to shop, don’t they need to sell the fantasy? I am a sucker for the fantasy. And aren’t window displays supposed to be about something to aspire to? Who daydreams about being rotund?

I’m not skinny and I’m never going to be a tiny size. Not without bones being removed, anyway. In this incarnation I got skinny hair and a thicker build. (Next time around I would like thick hair and a skinny build.) But I actually felt willowy and delicate next to these pale, headless gals. And I rarely feel willowy and delicate. Although they prevented me from wanting to shop in the store, those mannequins made me feel oddly better about my body. Mannequins making me feel svelte definitely qualifies as a parallel universe moment. I still think they’re bad for business though.

With all the TV shows about losing weight, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, magazine covers about diets and those who have lost 300 lbs, does it not seem like the message is going backwards by increasing the sizes of mannequins and even models? And this isn’t about extremes, either. In a plus-size store, of course, the mannequins should fit the clothes in the sizes the store actually sells. And I’m not in favor of promoting anorexic models or of the media giving women body issues. But should a regular lingerie store be going to these lengths to show everyone how size-friendly they are? Unlike the Dove ads that sell skin products, clothes are another matter. I think the idea is nice in theory, but in reality it doesn’t work. No matter what size we really are, we still want to be shown the ideal. And by changing the ideal, the message is that an ever-expanding population is just great. Never mind those pesky health ramifications and the healthcare costs that go along with obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Just make bigger sizes and bigger mannequins.

I fear this whole harsh reality trend is catching on. I was shopping on a department store website looking at cocktail dresses and among every handful of pictures was a dress on a model in a large size. Not to impugn these models—they’re nice looking women and all—but seeing the range of available sizes published next to a dress has always been good enough for me, thanks. I know my body well enough to gauge what will be flattering or not once the dress is increased to my size. Looking at some other woman’s big breasts and wide hips in a dress I’m trying to shop for only confuses matters. Just give me the skinny bitch so I can see the dress, lump-free. Trust me: My imagination has mastered the art of inserting my own body issues into virtual clothing. And please don’t be peeved at this appeal to panty peddlers to perpetuate plastic-people perfection.