Fighting dummies: the crusade against ultrathin body ideals
- The recent deaths of six young, anorexic models have focused public scrutiny on the body ideals presented in the fashion industry. But less animated models
- mannequins -- have long offered a more subtle expression of the idealized body.
Six inches taller and six sizes smaller than the average American woman, mannequins have long reflected body image trends. As the average person's weight continues to increase, models and mannequins represent fewer and fewer American women, which can cause problems for a young woman’s self-esteem. Some countries and fashion industry officials are making an effort to set a more realistic example, but many others are less concerned.
“Clothes look better on tall, thin, abnormal bodies,” said Roya Sullivan, visual director of ready-to-wear at Bloomingdales. “The average size in America will continue to go up, but high fashion will always be shown on smaller models.”
Over the years, some mannequin makers have created mannequin molds to mirror the evolution of body image trends. In the 60s, the miniskirt called for thin-thighed mannequins. Twenty years later, toned and athletic ones reflected the shift toward a “fit” body ideal.
In recent years, celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Beyonce have inspired larger-bottomed and more curvaceous mannequins. Today, many have tattoos, belly rings, deeper ear canals for hooking in earphones and have grown on average by 3 inches. Lately, sightings of mannequins that resemble women with breast implants have risen.
The weight of the average American continues to rise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 25-pound increase in the weight of an average person between 1960 and 2002. The standard size four to six mannequin does not reflect that change.
“The clothing's made to fit the mannequins, and the clothing in the fashion industry in general is best suited for an underweight look,” said Brooke Wheisenhunt, body image expert and professor of psychology at Missouri State University. “Anytime you see clothing on the mannequin or model there’s pressure to look like them and fit into the clothes.”
This danger, coupled with the recent model deaths, has spurred some countries to reevaluate the fashion industry’s image of women. Both Spain and Italy required an acceptable body fat index reading before allowing models to hit the runway for fashion shows earlier this year. London offered a free lunch to underweight models before a recent fashion show. And eating disorder officials in Ireland and the United Kingdom are championing more realistic-looking mannequins.
Spain in particular has begun a crusade.
The Health Ministry there plans to randomly select and measure 8,500 women between the ages of 12 and 70 with a laser machine that calculates 130 dimensions in 30 seconds. The measurements will be used to create mannequins that better represent the average woman. Designers will also use the measurements to create better fitting clothes. In the United States, however, the government and fashion industry officials have been slower to respond.
“We’re not ever going to have an edict from the government, not by a long shot,” said Dwight Critchfield, creative director at Goldsmith, a mannequin factory in New York City.
Gradually, however, some mannequins have been evolving. Industry experts disagree as to whether the larger-bottomed mannequins, the first development in creating a more realistic body type, are catching on. Both Sullivan, of Bloomingdales, and Maria Pucci, of Pucci International mannequin makers, said those mannequins didn’t have a large impact on the fashion industry as a whole.
“Stores bought them, but not to an enormous extent,” Pucci said of the company's Maximum line launched three years ago with an extra inch added to the standard hip and waist measurements.
Critchfield disagrees. Goldsmith’s Sex line, which uses similar measurements, has been very successful, especially among stores like Express, Dillard’s and Nordstrom’s, he said. And this December, they launched a new size eight mannequin.
“Clearly America and the world is getting bigger,” he said. “The idea of having a mannequin more representative of the average woman appealed to us and to a lot of our customers.”
And there has been an increase in demand for plus-sized mannequins. After designers like Donna Karin and Ellen Tracy began designing clothes in sizes larger than 12, mannequin makers responded. Launched more than five years ago, Burdie, a size 14 mannequin, has become a popular sell, Pucci said.
Still, nothing beats the size six, 5-foot-10 fiberglass beauty shown in almost all display windows. Sullivan prefers displaying clothes on a size six since she feels the smaller sizes are too linear and less pleasing to the eye.
“Mannequins are not anorexic,” Sullivan said. “They have the ideal body plus a couple inches of length. Mannequin makers "still keep proper body proportions while elongating the poses,” she said.