01/31/2012 10:10 am ET

Beauty Standards: 'Why Aren't There More Plus-Sized Mannequins?'

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This is a teen-written article from The Communicator, the student-run print and online newspaper of Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

We all buy clothes. We all come in different shapes and sizes, yet when we go shopping, we only see one type of mannequin. These plastic bodies set an impossible standard that assumes everyone wants to be tall and lean, and then we expect ourselves to be tall and lean. However, for the large majority of the population, it is impossible to look like these “perfect” mannequins. In reality, mannequins are far from perfect. Many models who have the same body type as mannequins are malnourished and anorexic. Not all healthy people are skinny and not all skinny people are healthy. This is not to say that thin cannot be beautiful, but it is only one kind of beautiful.

Most mannequins are far from what the average person looks like. According to the National Health Statistics Report, the average height and weight for women who are 20 years or older is 5’3” and 164.7 pounds. For men who are 20 years and older, the average height is 5’8” and the average weight is 194.7 pounds. These proportions are not represented in mannequins, but that is actually a good thing. Both of these averages are classified as overweight. I do not think that stores should promote obesity by making mannequins that display unhealthy, overweight bodies. However, stores should display a more diverse range of mannequins with healthy body types.

Some stores promote an idealized body type not only through mannequins but also through their employees. At Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister, there are often buff, shirtless, male greeters standing outside of the store to attract shoppers. Abercrombie & Fitch has a “look policy” that explains the guidelines employees have to live up to if they want to work there. Abercrombie & Fitch advocates for diversity in race amongst their employees but discourages other kinds of diversity. Samantha Elauf successfully sued the store in 2009, after they refused to hire her because her head scarf did not follow their “look policy.”

Mannequins are supposed to be a tool to show people what clothes could look like on them. But our current mannequins are not doing the job. The majority of the population is just looking at what clothes would look like on someone skinnier than they are. At Macy’s, there are two different types of mannequins: tall, skinny ones and plus-sized ones. The mannequins wear the smallest sizes available, but even double zeros don’t fit them. The clothes have to be pinned in the back so that they fit snugly. The case is the same for the plus-sized mannequins.

In 2004, Fox News published an article saying that stores would begin to include plus size mannequins in their displays. They said the mannequins would look like Beyoncé. When I think of plus sizes, Beyoncé does not come to mind. The Fox News articles idea of plus size is a limited one.

It is good that plus-sized mannequins are represented in stores. However, in reality, there are not only plus-sized people and very thin people. There are thousands of types in between. The in-between types are the most common and are usually the healthiest. Another issue at Macy’s is that plus-sized mannequins are never in central displays. The big displays only feature pure white skinny mannequins. There is not a diverse range of ethnicities represented by mannequins. In my local Macy’s, the mannequins are either jet black or snow white. In the juniors department there, out of 27 mannequins, there is a single black one, and they are all the same size.

This is not just a problem for women. Male mannequins are also homogeneous. Women are generally more preoccupied with their body image than men are, and women are judged more based on their bodies than men are. Nonetheless, a varied range of male mannequins should also be showcased.

When larger mannequins have been displayed in stores, responses have not been all positive. Kelly Rowell wrote an article for the Philly Post called “Fat Mannequins… So Wrong.” The article is about how she is disgusted with the bigger mannequins displayed in a lingerie store. Rowell says that she is not skinny but she wants to be lured into a store with fantasy rather than reality. She says that clothes look better on thin mannequins.

We are trained to value skinny bodies. People have a deep-set belief that once they achieve thinness they will be beautiful. It is this mindset that needs revision. The representation of women in media needs a huge overhaul. If you open up a People magazine and look at who the best dressed are, they are almost all skinny and are wearing tight or short dresses. Television and magazines feature airbrushed and idealized body types. It is not surprising that Rowell was repulsed by “fat” mannequins. The problem will not be resolved by simply integrating a wider range of mannequins in stores, but including a more diverse display could be one small step toward shifting people’s ideas of beauty.

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