Ah, Mannequins…

Ok, so I don’t understand the interest in talking about mannequins- only in the last couple of days 3 of my facebook news feed stories dealt with public concerns about various mannequins. I have to admit that so far my only concern when it comes to these dummies is to keep them intact- from the moment I enter the store, and til I leave, to make sure that I will not knock down their hands (it happened), lose their eyelashes (did that too) or even knock them down. The most annoying is when you slightly touch the clothes to feel the material and one of the dummy’s hands falls, but not all the way to the ground- it stays trapped in the shirt’s sleeve and it’s a pain in the ass to put it back (that happened too). So, as long our body boundaries do not meet, and as long as the mannequin is a recognizable human form (and it is not a grotesque appearance or a close relative of Chucky) I do not really care; they are just some fancy hangers.

However, it seems that at least some people find them important enough to devote time and energy into the topic, and not just view them as functional pieces of material culture, but as an instrument of coercion, one whose sole purpose is to make the customers feel bad about their body image. Therefore, being afraid that if I skip this topic I might miss on something that the world around deems as a hot topic, I decided to present 2 of the latest such stories.

The first one comes from the UK. Under the heading “Debenhams’ size 16 mannequins are great. Now we need even more diversity“, The Guardian blog article elaborated on the fact that by introducing size 16 mannequins, Debenhams took a step towards making the customers feel good about the body (in contrast with the issues that might have been caused by the previous slim ones). There have already been comments that even this is not enough, as real people in this size would not have just flat stomachs (as the mannequins do), and more range is needed. I am not gonna comment on this story too much, as I have already said that I do not care about how the dummy looks as long as it does not fall on me, and I can not understand personal crisis over this matter (i admit- it might be just that I come from a different cultural background, one which is not very interested in body issues). However, I find it interesting how the definition of personal happiness and identity in the contemporary world starts being shaped more and more in relation to what form material culture takes. In other words, you are happy only as long as the things you see around you are like you (or like the image you have about you), and everything that escapes this model needs to be cut to fit the Procrustean bed (as a side note, I also find interesting the resemblance between the ministry lady’s body type and the size of these mannequins) .

The second story is about “enhanced” mannequins in Venezuela: “Mannequins Give Shape to a

Venezuelan Fantasy” (quite an interesting video to watch). In short, it seem that the beauty industry in this country reached such levels, that not even the mannequins escaped the “plastic surgeries” (well, definitely plastic for them). In the desire to make clothes more appealing to customers and to get closer to the ideal of beautiful body in this country, the mannequins get bigger breasts and posteriors.

What is interesting about these 2 news pieces is to watch how different cultural traditions move in 2 opposite directions: the first one tries to move away from the idea of an ideal beauty, while the second shapes the material culture to get closer and closer to the ideal beauty. Regardless of the implications in both cases for the (mental and physical) health of customers, I can not wonder if they are not the same thing after all? In both cases personal identity (and happiness) seems to be tied so much around ones body image (and not the body per se), that great efforts are made to “correctly” represent it. In the end, it’s all about selling clothes, and in this quest some plastic instruments are sold as something much more- as your own image. And this I find disturbing.


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