Written by Fiona Longmuir

In The News

The big issue of body image

Following a public shaming on Facebook, Topshop is ditching its super-skinny mannequins. And rightly so, says Fiona Longmuir.

The Topshop mannequins criticised by Laura Berry.

The Topshop mannequin. Photo by Laura Berry.

Topshop hit the headlines this week with the news that they would no longer be ordering mannequins described as “ridiculously tiny” by a customer. Laura Berry posted a photograph of the offending mannequin on her Facebook, pointing out that mannequins like this contribute to unhealthy body image and insecurity.

Those body fascists, eh? Always up in arms about boring, unimportant things. Forever banging on about stuff like mannequins instead of the rights of real people.

Well actually, no.

There has been a pretty positive response to this story, but I can’t help noticing that it’s also prompted a massive eye roll from a large group of people. They’re just mannequins, what’s the big deal? Don’t we have more important things to focus on?

In my experience, things are seldom ‘just’ anything.

These mannequins don’t exist in a vacuum. You can talk about art and claim that they’re intended to be stylised until the cows come home, but that doesn’t change the fact that we live in a society that idolises scarily tall, scarily thin women. They might seem to be a tiny part of it but we see mannequins like this almost every single day. Whether we consciously notice it or not, they reinforce that quiet, insidious message: this is what a body looks like.

The thing about oppression is that sometimes, you see it straight away. Sometimes it hits you right in the face. But just as often, it’s made up of millions of tiny, insignificant things that can be brushed away or accepted as the norm. That’s how these structures survive. Because it’s just the way things are.

Another unrealistic shape for women to aspire to?

Another unrealistic shape for women to aspire to?

The hatred that fat people have to experience for simply daring to exist takes my breath away sometimes. I benefit from a lot of privilege thanks to my body but I regularly see friends battered with abuse for the heinous crime of being unapologetically fat. They share stories of being called disgusting and sickening. They are told that they aren’t fit to be parents. People snap photographs of them while they eat and put them online. When they go to the doctors, they struggle to get diagnosed because it’s assumed that their problems stem from their weight. This isn’t a matter of hurt feelings. Fat people are systematically oppressed by our beauty standards.

This hatred isn’t just directed at fat people from outside sources. We are seeing a consistent rise in eating disorders year-on-year. Eating disorder charity Beat reports that they have treated cases of anorexia in patients aged from six to 70.

People are starving themselves, hurting themselves, killing themselves in an attempt to get that perfect body, or to punish themselves for being unable to do so. All this pain is the direct result of a society that tells them their bodies are not good enough.

Topshop claims that the mannequins were never intended to represent real women, citing their excessive height as proof of this. But I’ve never seen a ‘stylised’ mannequin with exaggerated curves, or massive arms, or thighs that could crush walnuts. Stylised or not, it is obvious that the desirable default is still thin thin thin.


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Written by Fiona Longmuir

Fiona Longmuir is a professional storyteller, reluctant adult and aspiring funny girl. When not getting naked in tube stations and binge-watching inappropriate TV shows, she can be found scribbling at the Escapologist's Daughter.