LIVERPOOL, England — Could mannequins used by popular women’s clothing stores be fueling unhealthy body image conditions or eating disorders among impressionable shoppers?
Real-life supermodels are often scrutinized for their unrealistic and potentially dangerous examples they set for women, but now a new study finds that mannequins also portray “emaciated” versions of the female body.
Researchers at the University of Liverpool surveyed 17 clothing chain stores in England and rated at least one mannequin per shop. Ratings were determined by researchers using a scale that showed images of different body types of men or women, and a scale that showed contour drawings of physiques. The researchers would indicate which image on each scale best represented the body type of the mannequin being evaluated. In total, 58 mannequins — 32 female and 26 male — were rated.
“We became interested in this topic after seeing some news report about members of the general public noticing that some mannequins in fashion stores were disturbingly thin,” lead researcher Dr. Eric Robinson says of the first-of-its-kind study in a university news release.
The researchers found that all 32 female dummies were underweight, and that the average “body size of female mannequins represented that of extremely underweight human women,” says Robinson.
Conversely, just 8% of the male dummies were representative of an underweight man.
The team admits that the results were somewhat limited because the ratings were solely based off of observation since the stores wouldn’t allow the researchers to take actual measurements. The stores also didn’t allow the researchers to rate every mannequin in the store, which would have given the team a greater sample set for comparison.
Robinson says the results indicate that influential fashion brands should consider using more realistic mannequins in their stores to make women feel more comfortable in their own skin when it comes to purchasing clothes.
“Because ultra-thin ideals encourage the development of body image problems in young people, we need to change the environment to reduce emphasis on the value of extreme thinness,” he says. “We of course are not saying that altering the size of high street fashion mannequins will on its own ‘solve’ body image problems. What we are instead saying is that presentation of ultra-thin female bodies is likely to reinforce inappropriate and unobtainable body ideals, so as a society we should be taking measures to stop this type of reinforcement.”
He suggests that future studies examine more closely how mannequins actually affect a woman’s body image or exacerbate potential eating disorders.
“If being exposed to ultra-thin mannequins has a similarly negative effect on body image as exposure to other forms of ultra-thin media has,” the authors write in the study, “then this would further support the need for the fashion retail industry to use more appropriate size mannequins.”
The study, “Emaciated Mannequins: A study of mannequin body size in high street fashion stores“, was published May 2 in the Journal of Eating Disorders.