I’m sure you’ve all seen the plus-size mannequin that was brought to Nike’s flagship store in London. The introduction of this human-shaped plastic dummy has caused quite a stir and been accompanied by hefty media attention. In particular, Tanya Gold’s article on the Telegraph has been the subject of heated debate. Her article, titled “obese mannequins are selling women a dangerous lie”, is a current (and sad) example of what people have termed as “fatphobia”.
Fatphobia is the intense fear or dislike of fat bodies, becoming fat and just fat in general (yup, that’s right, even the molecule). It can be seen in many examples, one obvious one being fitness and sports campaigns in the fashion industry which have historically, never been size-inclusive. Most of the marketing in sports campaigns, as well as the clothing, is almost always exclusively aimed at smaller bodies. For instance, the mannequins displayed in stores are generally around a size 4/6 (or in the US size 0/2) and the advertisements used almost never feature larger people doing exercise (suggesting the idea that fat people are somehow incapable of moving their bodies *rolls eyes*). Fatphobia isn’t something that is exclusive to the fashion industry though, it’s something that permeates most aspects of our society, from public transport design, to daily microaggressions and even medical and workplace discrimination.
This marginalisation of fat people has led to a movement known as the “body positivity movement” which has been popularised by author and social media influencer Megan Jayne Crabbe (if you haven’t read the body positive power book yet, I highly recommend). The movement has been defined by courtesy of Wikipedia as a “social movement rooted in the belief that all human beings should have a positive body image, whilst challenging the ways in which society presents and views the physical body”. Essentially, the body positive movement is seen as one that is fighting for fat acceptance, amongst other things, and one of their central claims is that the word “fat” shouldn’t be one that is inherently negative. Body positivity has become increasingly popular and it’s been adopted by women everywhere, from everyday facebook mums to celebrities such as Jameela Jamil, so we can see why a quote like the one here has caused quite the uproar:
“She [the mannequin] is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement.” (Tanya Gold)
ugh, so lovely that, isn’t it?
After having read a number of articles (including Tanya Gold’s 🤢) and scrolled through the thousands of posts and comments on Twitter and Instagram I thought it might be useful to outline the main arguments that have been brought up on this notorious Nike mannequin (adding, of course, my opinion on them).
The argument that it shouldn’t be promoted because it’s unhealthy
This is by far the argument that crops up the most in people’s complaints against Nike’s fuller-figured mannequin. People like to argue that this mannequin, which represents a move towards fat-acceptance, shouldn’t be promoted because it’s unhealthy. So for example, Tanya Gold writes: “It worries me to see Nike, who promote athleticism, treating the obese model as potentially healthy in the cause of profit.”
Okay, firstly I’d like to point out that fat does not equal poor health just like thin does not always equal healthy!? I can’t believe this is a point that still needs to be made.
There is more to health than weight
If you need the evidence, there have been various studies that argue this very point. One of the most popular ones was a recent study published in the 2016 International Journal of Obesity which contends that the historically traditional way of measuring someone’s “health” by calculating a person’s body mass index (BMI – a value derived from the mass and height of a person) is not actually a reliable way to measure health. They show that there is a myriad different ways to measure health more accurately than by using a person’s weight or BMI and this is obvious when you consider the case of muscle mass for instance; muscle weighs more than fat so an extremely muscular individual, someone who would definitely be perceived as being fit and healthy by society, could actually have a BMI that classifies them as overweight or even obese. By contrast, someone who is thin could very well have a low BMI (and thus be considered as healthy) but also be pre-diabetic, have high blood pressure and smoke 40 cigarettes a day. Yet you would never know by simply just looking at them!
The argument that larger bodies shouldn’t be promoted because they’re unhealthy implicitly assumes that you can automatically judge a person’s health status by simply looking at them which is just scientifically incorrect. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that there aren’t risks associated with being overweight. I am fully aware that obesity is scientifically linked to a number of health problems, but the point I’m trying to make is that the assumption that fat people = unhealthy whilst thin people = healthy is completely unfounded.
Secondly, I’d like to point out that regular store mannequins are often weirdly proportioned and extremely thin and this isn’t just me giving my opinion – a study which measured the size of high street fashion store mannequins in the UK found that the average female mannequin body size was representative of a very underweight woman and 100% of female mannequins represented an underweight body size. So am I supposed to accept that these underweight mannequins are the pinnacle of health?
Uh, I don’t think soooo hunny.
All of the people who claim to be oh so concerned about health could, by the same token, argue that these underweight mannequins which promote unhealthy and unrealistic body ideals should be considered equally as ‘dangerous’ as the fuller-figured one, so why haven’t they made this point? It’s too obvious that these people aren’t actually concerned about health and are simply using this argument to try and mask their internalised fatphobia.
The argument that it shouldn’t be normalised
This argument is similar to the one above as it still feeds off of that internalised fatphobia. Some have tried to argue that stores shouldn’t display larger bodies because it normalises obesity.
First of all, the plus-size mannequin in the Nike store is at most a size 16/18 and I just don’t think we can count it as one that “is immense, gargantuan, vast” and heaving with fat as Tanya Gold so lovingly writes. In today’s society where the average UK female body size is a size 16 and industry standard mannequins are a size 6 (which not even 10% of the female UK population is) is it really so much to ask for decent representation across our fashion stores?
That there exist a variety of bodies in our society is a simple fact of life so WHY shouldn’t they be represented properly goddAMMIT.
The simply contradictory argument
Oh god, this is the funniest argument I’ve come across simply because of its sheer stupidity. Individuals will hate on fat people for being a larger size but will at the same time hate on the brand that is making clothes for them to exercise in.
Nike is finally providing larger people with the appropriate clothing to be physically active and move their bodies (something which society is constantly telling fat people to do in order to lose weight) and people are mad about it!? People are actually saying that they should be denied this opportunity, these clothes, this representation because they’re TOO fat??!!?!
I just don’t know what else to say about this to be honest.
It feels silly to have to point out that people of all sizes should be able to benefit from exercise and that, actually, exercise isn’t just for weight loss, something which I believe this mannequin shows. Larger bodies, smaller bodies, toned bodies and disabled bodies can, and should, be able to enjoy ALL of the other benefits associated with exercise (such as stress relief, sleep improvement, mental wellbeing, etc) and look cute whilst doing it!
A plus-size mannequin in a sports store should not have caused as much havoc as it has, and as Sophia Tassew writes on The Independent, it’s important to remember that “the Nike mannequin is contributing to the visibility of fat bodies in a space that is extremely exclusive, which is a great step”, something which I completely agree with.
I will never fully understand society’s obsession with people’s sizes as fatphobia is an incredibly complex thing to try and dissect, it has ties with misogyny and the fear that women will take up too much space (this is something I’ll probably write about in the future) BUT one thing I do know is that we have a responsibility to talk about this. We have to create the spaces to have these discussions because we cannot just simply carry on discriminating (and allowing the discrimination of) so many people in our society, it’s disgusting and it’s up to us to challenge the current norm.
All the love,