If you think the department store is a funny place to go and possibly feel better about your body image issues, you probably aren't shopping in Sweden. A photo of female mannequins in a Swedish department store recently surfaced on the web and caused a stir -- because rather than being the usual size 4, at least one of the mannequins was clearly more like a 10. In other words, a "real" woman, with curves.
On March 12, Facebook group Women's Rights News posted the photo, and it got more than 19,000 shares and 3,282 comments. People had a range of reactions, from "This is great!" to "That mannequin is fat!"
Studies from the Journal of Consumer Research tell us that most women react negatively to seeing models of certain sizes over and over. But when insults are hurled after that model changes from a size 4 to a size 10, what can you do?
Austin-based writer Cathy Benavides believes that people can learn something from the European approach to the female form. Self-described "body image crusader" and blogger, she documents fashion for plus-sized women on her blog, Austin Slave to Fashion.
HLN: Would mannequins like the Swedish ones ever be used in major U.S. department stores? If not, why not?
Cathy Benavides: I think it would be a VERY long time before we ever saw anything but straight-sized mannequins in a major U.S. store. Our mainstream fashion culture is very intent on selling dreams and fantasy as opposed to reality. This is why our mannequins are thin, our ads and magazine covers are airbrushed, and plus sizes are relegated to the back of the store or the Internet.
HLN: How does the European attitude about body image differ from that of America’s?
CB: I think Europe has always been more comfortable with a realistic view of bodies. Again, America wants the dream and the fantasy of "perfection." Europe is more accepting and inclusive when it comes to their views toward women's bodies, and they are quicker to celebrate and embrace the many shapes and sizes of the female form.
HLN: Is the average mannequin that we see in U.S. stores damaging to women’s self esteem? Why?
CB: I don't know if I want to say that a mannequin can damage a woman's self-esteem; that's a lot of blame to heap on a hunk of plaster. But I think it's indicative of the disconnect between the reality of the majority of women's bodies and the fantasy we are sold. It's disheartening and frustrating to see items on a mannequin that is shaped nothing like you. And it can make for a meltdown in the dressing room when nothing looks "right" on your body. In a perfect world, I'd love to see real variety in clothing displays -- slender, curvy, short, tall, busty, flat-chested ... that would be real progress!