"Sizes are just getting smaller and smaller" - The dangers of 'underweight' mannequins

New research shows the average size of a female mannequin represents a 'severely underweight' woman

"Sizes are just getting smaller and smaller" - The dangers of 'underweight' mannequins

Picture by: Tim Ireland/PA Archive/PA Images

When you're shopping for clothes, the odds are the mannequins you'll encounter in stores are not representative of the general population.

According to new research from the University of Liverpool, the bodies of most female shop mannequins are "unrealistic" and - if they were real people - would be considered medically unhealthy.

The research found that only a small proportion of male mannequins represented an 'underweight body size'. In contrast, the average size of a female mannequin was found to represent a 'severely underweight' woman.

Henry McKean went window shopping in Dublin's Liffey Valley Shopping Centre with Audrey O'Neill, a founding member of Plus Size Model Management, to discuss the issue.

Audrey explained: "I'd say 80% at least of the people we passed today are considered plus size, or would be plus size for modelling.

"[The mannequins] look like they're a size 6 - but who's a size 6 when they're 6 foot? They're beautiful, but they're realistic to probably 5% or 10% of population.

"The problem is not the mannequins [...] I think what's unrealistic is that the fact that the majority of people looking at it don't look like that."

"The sizes are just getting smaller and smaller"

Image: Henry McKean

Henry spoke to a number of shoppers about the one issue. One shopper told him: "When you see those mannequins, they are too skinny for the young people of today."

She suggested that while being overweight can lead to many health problems - observing that she herself has diabetes and other conditions - the problem of being underweight is a very real danger for young people.

"I saw it with my own daughter," she explained to Henry. "She was very thin, and then she put on weight. Then our doctor turned around one day and said 'do you want to end up like your mum?'

"Then she lost all the weight, and I was terrified she was going too far."

Another added: "I definitely would be influenced by the size of the mannequins in the shops. The sizes are just getting smaller and smaller because they're going onto smaller mannequins."

One man argued that the problem is that the prevalence of skinny mannequins put huge pressure on people - male and female alike.

"You're being forced to look at yourself and say 'I'm not right, I'm not correct'," he said.

Frances Jones, image consultant with Image Matters, has advised politicians and celebrities. She told Henry that the use of skinny mannequins is seriously irresponsible.

She said: "What kind of message is this giving to our young women? It leads to issues with lack of confidence in relation to body image, eating disorders as well as physical and mental health issues."

"They're forgetting what's beautiful"

Henry also spoke to some of the people working in fashion to gauge their views on the issue.

Some openly admitted that they have to pin the clothes to the mannequins to get them to fit.

"The fashion looks nicer when it's on a skinnier model," one fashion worker said. "I'm not saying it's not nice when it's on a skinnier person - but it's just nice in the window."

Another observed: "A normal body size [is what] I recommend [for mannequins]. A lot of the time we do have to pin the dresses and stuff like that, so it would be nice to have a mannequin to come in that [suits] the clothes."

Audrey, meanwhile, summed up what she believes are some of the problems that result from the prominence of unrealistically thin mannequins and models.

"I just think that so many people are sitting at home and they feel bad about themselves, and they're concentrating on the flaws," she said. "They don't realise what they actually are is very, very normal, average-sized people.

"They're forgetting what's beautiful - they don't realise that 90% of what they have is absolutely stunning, and they're concentrating on one or two flaws. They're striving for something that's not real."

She stressed: "What [people] don't realise is if you are too big to be a regular sized model, then you are a plus-size model. It doesn't mean that you're overweight, it doesn't mean that there's anything wrong."