Beth Stebner
Updated Jun 26, 2015 @ 11:42 am
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The invention of the modern mannequin can be credited to the French in the 1870s at the start of the Industrial Revolution as a way to attract women into stores. It helped them envision the clothes as they might look on actual women’s bodies.

Fast-forward a century, and New Look, a teen clothing store in the United Kingdom has come under fire for showing a mannequin with an impossibly disproportionate size zero waist that many say promotes an unrealistic body image.

It all started when customer, Sarah Hayter, posted a Facebook photo of the mannequin in question, along with this message to the retailer: “So this is a mannequin in your store – (I) personally think this gives out the WRONG message, especially to younger girls.”

Hayter wasn’t alone in her concerns.

“These retailers need a reality check about what they are portraying,” Marg Oaten, from Seed Eating Disorder Support, told ITV News Meridian. “It is a harmful body image. It can destroy people.”

After a barrage of outrage online, New Look posted a statement to their page saying that they’re taking the mannequin down from the store in Kent.

“We are also going to start an investigation to ensure this style of mannequin isn’t used in any other stores or is removed as appropriate,” they wrote on their Facebook page.

“At New Look (sic) we would never want to encourage women to aim for an unhealthy or unattainable image or life style (sic). The issues raised today will be treated with high priority in order to prevent any further distress.”

It’s not the first store mannequin to raise serious concerns, and spark social media outrage. Last May, La Perla’s rib-baring store display models prompted the Twitter hashtag #notbuyingit. And just a few months ago, both designer Karen Millen and Whistles came under fire for using super-skinny mannequins in their UK stores.

The outrage stems from concerns that by representing a very specific body type—one that many women don’t naturally have—these retailers are promoting ideals that are potentially damaging.

“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,” a representative for Beat, an eating disorders awareness organization, told Huffington Post UK, back in March. “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.”

At the same time, the backlash raises issues about skinny-shaming. While those mannequins may be unrealistic to many women, those who share a similar body type naturally feel as if their size is being attacked and scrutinized.

Of course, women of all sizes are beautiful and deserve to be represented both in the media and in stores. The problem, however, is when only one type of figure dominates retail outlets—and it’s an issue that retailers are only recently becoming aware of. That’s in no small part due to customers like Hayter and others who have spoken out about their concerns, and made brands stop and listen.

(Image via Facebook)