Size 16 mannequins at Debenhams: Seriously?

After the news emerged earlier this week that Debenhams have introduced size 16 mannequins to their Oxford Street store in London, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes.

After the news emerged earlier this week that Debenhams have introduced size 16 mannequins to their Oxford Street store in London, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I’ve already written about this topic earlier this year, when size 12 and 16 mannequins caused outrage in Sweden, and my opinion hasn’t changed.

Size 16 mannequins are not what this country needs.

Allow me to explain.

The average British woman is 5ft 3in, weighs 11st and wears a size 16. This is not healthy. 11st can be healthy, as can a size 16, but an 11st woman standing at 5ft 3in is not healthy. Any body mass calculator will tell you that this is overweight.

Women in the UK are the fattest in Europe, with over a quarter of British women being overweight, and the men aren’t far behind! We see the problems of obesity all around us, from our children being bullied to 20-somethings getting gastric bands, yet for some reason the only solution we see to this problem is to continue to advocate body confidence and pretend that it isn’t happening.

High street stores such as BHS and Marks and Spencer have started stocking plus-size school uniforms, 9.5 per cent of children in reception were obese in 2011 and in the same year there were 11, 736 hospital admissions due to obesity – over 11 times higher than the figures from 2001-2. Supersizing everything just because the average British woman is overweight is just not the answer.

Increasing the size of mannequins is just another step in the wrong direction as far as attitudes towards body image are concerned. The mannequins currently used are a healthy size 10. It may be below average in this country but that is not to say that a size 10 is an unattainable, unnatural or unhealthy body shape.

Mannequins in Venezuela have recently come under heavy criticism due to their minuscule waists and implant-shaped breasts, and indeed, body shapes like this are not natural and do not represent ‘real’ women, but can we really say the same about a size 10 mannequin? Shops have been trying to promote a healthier body image with regard to the size of the mannequins that they use.

Not a new controversy

In 2007, shops on London’s high street were banned from using stick-thin models, in 2010 Club Monaco came under fire for displaying mannequins with protruding spines and in 2011 Gap was criticised by bloggers for having skeletal mannequins modelling the ‘Always Skinny’ jeans range.

This mannequin controversy isn’t new, but, unlike days gone by, the hysteria seems largely unwarranted. It is one thing to replace a painfully thin mannequin with a larger (but still slim) one. It is another thing entirely to replace perfectly normal mannequins with models that, if they were real people, would be unhealthy.

Perhaps, rather than slamming the size 10s because they don’t represent the overweight size 16 average, we should be working harder as a nation to ensure that the average dress size for women isn’t a size 16.

Besides, can we really say that the mannequins are truly representative of the size 16 frame? These mannequins have flat stomachs which is something many size 8 women can’t boast! If the mannequins truly do represent a size 16 frame, than they most certainly do not represent the 5ft 3in, 11st ‘average’ woman on the British high street.

Having size 16 mannequins isn’t going to change anything. It isn’t going to change the fact that 1 in 10 girls will go on to develop eating disorders, it won’t change the fact that Topshop only stocks clothes up to a size 16, with some of the larger fashion houses stopping at 14 (Stella McCartney), and it certainly won’t change the fact that a slightly chubby girl is still going to feel inferior to her skinny blonde counterpart in the school playground.

All that these mannequins will do is provoke conversation, which is of course exactly what Debenhams want to do. They are no stranger to controversy, with previous campaigns including a woman in a wheelchair modelling and plus-size models posing for lingerie ranges.

Much like Alexander McQueen sending a plus-size model down the catwalk, Yossi Loloi photographing SSBBWs (Super Size Big Beautiful Women) naked or Beth Ditto wearing fishnets and no knickers, these mannequins will be used to create a media storm.

Middle-class Daily Mail readers will feel better about eating that last slice of chocolate cake and rush straight to Debenhams to splurge out on a new dress because they feel ‘accepted’ there. This has nothing to do with promoting a healthy body image and everything to do with cashing in on gullible housewives.

Image: Martin Pettitt