It’s not about the ribs

Recently Australasian clothing giant Glassons got new mannequins. They were ultra thin as usual, but this time they had the added detail of protruding ribs. This angered people, and a petition calling for mass mannequin removal was signed by 16,000 people in a single day. New Zealand mother/daughter Fashun commentators with the combined real-world experience of a diamante dish brush said offensive things. Glassons apologised. The mannequins are now going to a big creepy mannequin attic somewhere far far away (but not from your dreams).

Except it’s not about the ribs, is it? Or at least it shouldn’t be.

Apparently, the offending plastic bumps “sparked a nationwide debate on whether this was an appropriate portrayal of the female form”. And the ribs lost out.

This means all women with protruding ribs (of which there are many), have effectively been told their likenesses are inappropriate female forms. Rather than this discussion being about the saturation of one smothering, value-laden, deliberately unattainable form of beauty, which all mainstream fashion chains uphold, we picked apart some ribs. And then felt proud of ourselves for somehow making the fashion industry better.

The fashion industry doesn’t get better when you change the body type you demonize. Making thin women feel unhealthy and unattractive is just as bad as making fat women feel unhealthy and unattractive. This debate needs to be about the prevalence of one ideal, not the bodies that fit that ideal.

Hallenstein Glasson CEO Graeme Popplewell wants to “reiterate how truly sorry we are to the women of New Zealand”. Man, he should be sorry for some real shit. He should be sorry that his mannequins are all size 6-8 when the average New Zealand woman is a size 16. Or sorry that his mannequins have no diversity of proportions or shape. Or sorry that his size run finishes at 16 in dress clothes and 18 in ‘basics’. Or sorry that his leggings give out in the thighs the second a chubby woman even looks at them. Or sorry that they tried to bring back 90’s faux fur in the style of dead muppets this season.

Apparently the NZ Federation of Business and Professional Women wants a code of practice in the fashion industry to end skinny models and mannequins. I’m a size 16 woman who battles against the idea that my body is inherently less beautiful or valid every single day, but I don’t want an end to skinny models and mannequins. I want an end to all mainstream models and mannequins being skinny.

I want an end to the idea of what ‘mainstream’ constitutes in fashion, especially when it’s not an accurate reflection of how many bodies fit into that niche. I’d like models and mannequins to reflect the diversity of women who buy that particular brand. I’d like more brands to appeal to more bodies.

I’d like to stop making fat women feel ugly and thin women feel less ‘real’ because ‘real women have curves’. It’s almost as if the entire beauty and fashion industries thrive on the idea that whatever “beautiful” is, you can never really achieve it. It’s almost as if that pushes women to keep spending money on something where the goalposts keep shifting. Gosh, it’s almost as if women continue to be oppressed in plain sight because of an system that needs insecurity-driven consumerism to exist. Almost.

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