Kit Steinkellner
March 12, 2015 7:00 am

Another retailer is sparking controversy for using mannequins with visible ribs and collarbones this week — and it’s important we talk about why it matters. Mental health campaigner, Laur Evans, tweeted this photo from a Karen Millen store in Southampton, England a couple days ago, featuring a mannequin extremely similar to the one that sparked major controversy just recently at the store Whistles in London.

We’re used to store mannequins being super thin. It actually kind of seems like “super thin” is the only size store mannequins come in. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being super thin (if that’s what’s healthy for you!), both Karen Millen and Whistles are currently on the receiving end of a lot of outrage from customers and eating disorder activists, who say that these mannequins in particular set dangerous examples for women everywhere.

While shopping at Whistles, customer Amina Hays noticed a mannequin with a particularly bony chest. She snapped a picture and posted it to her Instagram account @sinkvenice with the caption: “Because having a mannequin specifically made with a protruding breast bone will definitely solve women’s body issues.”

Needless to say, her photo stirred up some controversy. Whistles actually apologized for the mannequin in a statement to press, claiming:

“We are sorry for any unintentional offence caused by this mannequin. Our mannequins are supplied by a company which has been working with leading retailers for over 30 years. The headless mannequins are a stylised tool for visual merchandising and standing at 177cm tall are not a direct representation of the average female form. It is made from elongated solid fibreglass in order for clothing to be carefully slipped on and off. However, we do take customer feedback very seriously and will be removing this style mannequin from shop windows.”

While it’s important we not shame anyone for being skinny (or any size, really; because putting other people’s bodies down should not be how we raise other bodies up), adding protruding bones to what’s normally just an unrealistic, vaguely person-shaped inanimate object humanizes them enough to give us pause. Yes, this body type is representative of some women — which is very important — but when it’s the only option, that’s where things get sticky. These mannequins contribute to a culture that, for the most part, still reinforces narrow beauty standards and encourages people with certain body types to wear certain clothes.

Hays later expressed her outrage over the Whistles mannequin to the Daily Mail, saying, “There has been so much uproar with the fashion industry not representing ‘real’ women I thought idiocies like this had been abolished.”

With regard to Karen Millen’s “model,” Evans told The Telegraph, “Collarbone and rib imagery is a core theme in ‘thinspiration’ that fuels, not just eating disorders, but the body dissatisfaction that permeates our culture.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for eating disorder charity, Beat, responded to the controversy by directly calling out retailers and their responsibility to customers.

“Retailers should consider very seriously the messages that they put across and we should all play a part in giving a generation of young people confidence in their bodies, their appearance and their sense of wellbeing,” the Beat rep told Huffington Post UK reports. “Obviously underweight mannequins such as this are unhelpful in fueling the continuous exposure of the unrealistic ‘ideals’ so often portrayed. People who are at risk, or already affected by an eating disorder can be triggered or maintained in the disorder by the images they see everywhere.”

In the HuffPo’s piece about the controversy, they raised asked a salient question about whether the outrage surrounding the mannequin is ” . . . veering into dangerous skinny shaming territory?”

The answer is maybe, but it doesn’t have to be — rather than focusing on bringing down skinny bodies, we should be promoting all healthy bodies in positive ways, instead. That’s not too much to ask, and that’s what customers deserve.

[Images via, via]

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