Women are bigger today than they were even ten years ago, and the time has come for a realistic acceptance of this fact. High street retailer Debenhams is being applauded for its decision to use plus sized female mannequins in its shops.
The average British woman is no longer a size 12, as she was a decade ago; the national average is 16. This equates to a US size 14 with a 40 inch bust and a waist measurement of 33 inches. Shop dummies are usually an unrealistic size 10 (US 8).
Debenhams, one of the biggest department stores in the United Kingdom, said they were swapping to “better represent what real women look like.” The bigger moulds will stand alongside the existing size 10 mass produced mannequins.
The larger models are unveiled today in the flagship Oxford Street megastore, and plans are in place to roll them out across the country. The government’s Women’s and Equalities Minister, Jo Swinson, was quick to welcome the decision. She said that women were “fed up” with the continual pressure to look slim, and that the unrealistic ideal of being thin, white and young was still being “reinforced from the catwalks right through to shop mannequins.” She is in favor of a healthy body image and feels that clothing brands and shops have their part to play in re-visioning what this means.
The painfully thin size zero model that has been a feature of both mainstream media and the fashion design industry for so long is held accountable for a rise in eating disorders. Young and vulnerable girls are particularly at risk from putting their health in serious danger by trying to starve to be skinny.
Supermodel Kate Moss was widely castigated for her oft quoted remark “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” It is a small step to self-hatred for girls who cannot achieve this feeling and as psychoanalyst Susie Orbach has written, “normal” is now “messed up.”
Debenhams already honored a pledge they made earlier in the year to stop airbrushing the models in their advertising photographs. Ed Watson, the company’s director, is delighted that this move has saved them thousands of pounds. They have now challenged rival companies to follow their lead. Women are getting bigger, and this is now a fact of life today.
Dove, the cosmetics company; a subsidiary of corporate giant Unilever, has also garnered plaudits with their Campaign for Real Beauty which has been running since 2004. With the slogan “Imagine a World where Beauty is a Source of Confidence, Not Anxiety” they have attempted to redefine the mass market perceptions of beauty. To this end, they have used “real women” in their ads, of all shapes, sizes and colors.
In 2011 they did research on self esteem, and found 72% of all young girls felt tremendous pressure to be beautiful. They blame this on the continual bombardment of unattainable imagery in magazine and movies. Dove runs programs and activities to promote self esteem and confidence in girls; they have ambitious plans to reach out to 15 million girls worldwide by 2015.
The Dove campaign has not been uncontroversial, with many critics pointing out that the models they use are far from “average” and all are good looking.
Whenever the plus size issue comes up, there is always discussion about a certain iconic female; Marilyn Monroe. She has gone down in history as one of the most beautiful women that ever lived, and yet the debate about her size goes on.
English actress Elizabeth Hurley has said “I’d kill myself if I was that fat” referring to Marilyn’s fabled curves. Ms Hurley says she has seen clothes worn by the screen siren and “She was very big.” It is often said that Marilyn was a size 16, but that was a long time ago. Sizing charts have changed considerably since then. Given that her weight did fluctuate, her dressmaker’s testimony is perhaps most accurate. She has said that Marilyn was never larger than a 37 inch bust. This is still smaller than today’s size 16.
The difference that has crept in, though, is not so much in sizing, but in aesthetics and appreciation. Today’s ideal has become skeletal and starved, even as women are getting bigger. Companies like Debenhams and Dove have set about to address this.
Ed Watson says his size 16 mannequins are being introduced for reasons that are both moral and business related. With the average age of his female customers being 44 years, he is no doubt hoping that these “real” (and bigger) women will now flock to his stores in their droves.
By Kate Henderson