On Body Image and Representing Women

There have been two issues crossing my path recently on the subject of women’s Body Image. The first was about a TopShop mannequin’s leg being about half the size of a self-reported size 8-10 girl’s. The second was about an advertising campaign by Victoria’s Secret called Perfect Body. Or some such. The problem, of course, being that the bodies in question are all slim, leggy models.

Now, obviously, we can’t have either of these. I mean, absolutely no-one could possibly be healthy at such a tiny size, and we certainly shouldn’t be calling them “perfect”. Do we want to encourage eating disorders? Et cetera, ad infinitum.

Except, all the girls in the underwear campaign look healthy, from the pictures, which suggests that, as far as perfection goes, they probably are. For them. I’m not in any way, shape or form suggesting that only people like that are perfect. Of course not. Because that would be suggest that I am imperfect, and frankly I think far too much of myself to suggest that.

What I am suggesting is this: As much as we shouldn’t bully larger people, neither should we bully the naturally, or not, slender people. The perfect body, for you, is yours. At whatever size is natural to you, your eating habits and exercise regime.

And I know some people will say that this sort of campaign is bad for impressionable girls. It may well be, but I suspect full-grown women saying such things is just as bad, if not worse, because it gives impressionable girls the idea that they should hate the way they look. And they shouldn’t. No one should. But so much emphasis and negativity is, I would argue, more likely to make them feel bad, as if they should be comparing themselves to those air-brushed pictures of slim, leggy models, whose job is to be slim and leggy, rather than accepting that only a few of us look like that, but the underwear’s quite pretty. And we do all need clothes, regardless of which model is advertising them.

As for the continuing argument about skinny mannequins, I think a greater argument can be had for their height. It makes not one lick of difference if the mannequin is an “unreal” size ten or an “average” size sixteen if it’s at least six feet tall. The average height of women in Britain is almost an entire foot shorter than that. Besides which, until we have standard measurements for each size, the number is thoroughly irrelevant.

I’m 5’3” if my measuring tape is feeling generous and a size 8-14. Where’s the mannequin (or indeed catwalk model) that represents people like me? Nowhere, is the answer, because that’s not their job. Their job is to display the clothes in a manner that gives a better idea of what they look like when padded out a bit and not on a hanger. They aren’t, really, employed to represent us or to show us what we’d look like in those clothes; they are purely there to display the clothes. Try the clothes on and look in a mirror/take a photo if you want to find out what it looks like on you.

I would be far more convinced by all the arguments about needing to have more “average-size” mannequins in shops if the campaigns required retailers to use those of an average height as well. Which, I believe, is an inch or two taller than me: about 5’4” or 5’5”. Otherwise what’s the point? The mannequin is still pretty unrepresentative of the populace as a whole.

And, momentarily back to the Body campaign, my understanding is that it’s supposed to be advertising an item of clothing called a Body. The tagline is, after all, “Perfect fit. Perfect comfort. Perfectly soft.” Not exactly describing the bodies in the photo…

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