When I was in middle school and high school I used to spend all of my free time drawing fashion designs. I would also design my own stores and catalogs. One thing I always included in my stores were mannequins that were all different shapes and sizes. I loved the idea that an array of different women would be represented: short, tall, thin, and thick. Seemed obvious to me that retailers should represent all types of women, not just one.  

Mannequins in Ahlens stores, Sweden

Mannequins in Ahlens stores, Sweden

Fast forward many, many years and this idea has just begun to see fruition. In 2013 I read about a Swedish department store named Ahlens who made world news when they debuted realistic body mannequins in their stores. The mannequin’s measurements would be approximately the equivalent to a size 16 based off the Nordstrom.com size chart. Of course the average American woman is a size 14 and approximately 5’4” so this mannequin doesn’t necessarily represent the “average” at 5’10” but it does allow women to see clothing on a body with more curves.

JC Penney took the idea of diverse mannequins to another level when they displayed 5 unique mannequins in their Manhattan store in 2014. The mannequins were created for a series produced by The Today Show for their “Love Your Selfie” series.

JC Penney Window Display

The real life inspirations for the mannequins are: Dawna Callahan, who uses a wheelchair due to incomplete paralysis; Neil Duncan, a former Army paratrooper who lost parts of both of his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan; Ricardo Gil, who has dwarfism; Desiree Hunter, a 6-foot-1½-inch college basketball player; and Beth Ridgeway, who is plus-size.

The stories of the individuals were told in this video and the mixture of able-bodied individuals as well as individuals with disabilities was especially inspiring. The 2010 census reports over 41 million people in the U.S. are recorded as having disabilities and it is obviously important that they see themselves represented in all segments of culture.

1 store in Manhattan is a start, but of course it would be a much bigger deal to revamp the mannequins in all of their stores across the country. I would love to know if this has been done, I looked online but couldn’t find any information.

There has been a backlash in the last couple years against retailers who featured mannequins on the opposite end of the spectrum: super skinny bodies that seem to reinforce and celebrate impossible beauty standards. La Perla was slammed for mannequins they debuted who looked like they had missed more than a few meals with ribs poking out. After the public responded with outrage the retailer removed the mannequin. Topshop and The Gap have also been slammed for mannequins with legs that closely resemble toothpicks


My hope would be that retailers across the board will embrace diversity of color as well as size. The body positive movement has gained a lot of momentum lately and it is time for the fashion industry and the retail community to get on board. That doesn't mean that every mannequin should be curvy or plus size of course. There are millions of naturally thin women in the world just like there are millions of plus size women, petite women, disabled women, older women and more. So represent everyone and celebrate the range of beauty that exists in the world.