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New Zealand's skinny mannequin controversy is a worldwide issue


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In a recent interview, Denise L'Estrange-Corbet, the CEO and co-founder of WORLD (one of New Zealand’s biggest fashion brands) caused controversy by defending the use of skinny mannequins, saying “let’s face it, clothes look better on skinny people."

This issue was brought to light when actress Emily Robins tweeted a photo of a mannequin with exposed ribs on display at Glassons, a high street fashion chain. Following public outcry, Glassons CEO Graeme Popplewell issued a statement apologising for the display, expressing that "the removal of the offending mannequins is effective immediately (and that)…we wish to reiterate how truly sorry we are to the women of New Zealand."

Unfortunately, the pervasiveness of unrealistically thin mannequins isn’t just limited to New Zealand. Indeed, it seems to be the case that all around the world, the fashion industry exposes individuals to unhealthy body expectations through the use of tall, slender mannequins. Earlier this year, La Perla was criticised for its shop display of ribby mannequins, and Primark has also been slammed with similar criticisms over its displays.

Speaking about the effects of skinny mannequins on young people, L’Estrange-Cobert sees “Miley Cyrus openly smoking dope” as a much bigger issue. However, there is clearly more to this problem than meets the eye. Research has proven that mannequins are important marketing tools for retail clothing stores, in some cases helping boost sales by up to 43%. In a society where social media constantly showcases the “ideal” female body, young girls are under more and more pressure to achieve the “perfect” figure. Personally, I’ve seen my fair share of this whilst flicking through Intstagram. With hashtags such as “thinspiration” promoting images of stick-thin girls, and legions of followers vying to strive for similar bodies, the prevalence of skinny mannequins will only add to brainwashing individuals into believing that their bodies do not look good enough.

On the flipside, people have been accused of “skinny shaming”, and some have argued that it is perfectly healthy to have exposed ribs, depending on your height, weight and BMI.

Some fashion retailers have began making changes to their mannequin policies. Recently, a Swedish branch of H&M replaced its normal mannequins with those of various body types, and generally received positive comments on Facebook, with comments saying that such figures are what “real women” should look like. In my opinion, however, a “real woman” shouldn’t be strategically defined as someone who is “curvy”, nor should a real woman only be someone who is thin and skinny. A “real” woman should simply just be someone who is a woman— be they thin, curvy, tall, short, and everything else in between.

Perhaps it is high time that fashion retailers began to accommodate mannequins for a variety of different body types instead merely focusing on commercial gains, and help to bring awareness that nobody is perfect - least of all not a plastic figure draped in fabric.

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