The skinny on mannequin sizes (Hint: they’re too skinny to menstruate)

New mannequins display a more realistic female form. Photo via Yahoo!

New mannequins display a more realistic female form. Photo via Yahoo!

A Swedish clothing store creates more realistic mannequins and the Internet collectively loses its shit. The photo (right) was shared earlier this week on Facebook by Women’s Rights News and gathered more than 2800 comments, 16,000 shares, and 50,000 likes. As Yahoo! Shine writer Elise Sole noted, “That’s a lot of attention for a hunk of fiber glass and plastic.”

The photo seemed to strike a nerve given the increase in the average size of American women and the simultaneous decrease in the proportions of mannequins. Those hunks of plastic and fiberglass represent a very tiny fragment of the female population. They are generally Caucasian, young, and very, very thin. Because they are infinitely malleable and don’t have to rely on biological constraints, mannequins give fashion designers a way to portray what they think is the ideal female form.

These newer mannequins still represent an ideal (blonde, busty, young, hourglass-shaped), but they seem to represent a more realistic ideal for many women. They look like they have a reasonable amount of body fat. Also, I love the color and cut of the lingerie, though I generally go more for comfort.

I was discussing this on the Academy for Eating Disorders’ Facebook page, when one of the site mods cited one of her favorite research studies: “Could Mannequins Menstruate?” Tetyana at Science of EDs posted the link, and I decided that I might blog about the subject since it seemed to interest so many in the ED community.

Two Finnish researchers, Minna Rintala and Pertti Mustajoki, noted that women needed, on average, at least 17% body fat to begin menstruating and 22% for regular cycles. Using measurements of actual women, the researchers took measurements of a variety of mannequins from Finnish museums in an attempt to calculate their percentage body fat. They found mannequins from the 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s, and 90s, and measured arm, thigh, waist, and hip circumference on the mannequins (see photo below).

The pre-WWII mannequins had levels of body fat that were consistent with those seen in a healthy, college population: 23% to 32%. Starting in the 1950s, however, the estimated body fat on the mannequins decreased significantly, such that by the 1990s, a significant number of mannequins would not have sufficient body fat to menstruate if they were, you know, actual people.

Who cares about the body shape--check out the hair!!

Who cares about the body shape–check out the hair!!

The authors had a very interesting conclusion for this shift in ideal body shape:

Why is the idealised weight so low? From the history of fashion we can see that during times of scarcity wide skirts with plenty of material were fashionable. When plenty of material was available the skirts were short and narrow. Similarly, being fat was socially desirable in times when there was a shortage of food. Now, in societies with excess food the ideal body shape is extremely thin. It seems that things difficult to achieve are pursued.

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8 Responses to “The skinny on mannequin sizes (Hint: they’re too skinny to menstruate)”

  1. Now that is more like the normal body shape

  2. I read somewhere that in North America obesity is higher in the lower income earners, and being of a more healthy weight is higher amongst the upper class, while in other parts of the world it’s the opposite: lower income earners are smaller than higher income earners. This may be why the mannequins are tiny in North America – they are representing an ideal that is more than just about weight. That said, I don’t condone it – It is my dream that one day we’ll be accepting of people at any size.

  3. I would love it if it were the norm to see mannequins of different sizes throughout stores. It would help me figure out what the heck would look good on me lol. Interesting article that you link to.

  4. Carrie, I think this ties in really nicely with the posts about “appropriate” weight and recovery. I’ve always had a normal range BMI, but still have secondary amenorrhoea. Similarly, the most important part of me, my brain, just doesn’t function as well despite being at a “within range” weight. So maybe, the first step of recovery is to regain the basic functions of your body (menstruation and mental processing being fairly basic!), and (re-)learning that the body has purpose other than providing a surface to inflict damage on oneself.

  5. Thanks for finally writing about > The skinny on mannequin sizes (Hint: they


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