Have you heard the one about the big fat dummy? No, this isn’t a piece about US politics – shame on you for thinking that. No, this is a story about an actual dummy, as in a mannequin, that has been causing distress and consternation due to its refusal to conform to conventional standards of beauty.
Of course, all mannequins, in a sense, refuse to conform to conventional standards of beauty, inasmuch as conventionally, people are considered beautiful if they have working limbs and nipples. But this mannequin, placed in the flagship Nike store in London last week, defies convention in a different way: it’s fat.
“A fat mannequin?” I hear you cry. “Quelle horreur!” Well, quite. The appearance of the tubby simulacrum sparked a wave of outrage, which naturally sparked a wave of outrage about the first wave of outrage, triggering an outrage chain reaction that threatens to swallow us all if we don’t take immediate steps to think about something more important.
The initial objections to the fat mannequin go thusly: the dummy is in a sports shop, modelling activewear, it is sending a message about health and fitness, and as such Nike is being irresponsible in suggesting that obesity is desirable. Or as British journalist, Tanya Gold put it: “The new mannequin…cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement.”
The counter-outrage runs this way: it is absolutely vital that overweight people are accepted and celebrated in our society, so this mannequin is actually the hero we deserve, promoting body positivity and fat acceptance, and the message that fat people can be healthy and exercise. Also, mannequins can’t get diabetes.
What is interesting about this argument is that both sides are incredibly stupid. Picture, if you will, a young woman walking into the Nike store, seeing the fat mannequin, and saying to herself, “Well, if this inanimate piece of plastic can binge on KFC and still make it to the top of the modelling world, so can I!” The young woman then proceeds to cancel her gym membership and buy a milkshake maker. Personally, this scenario doesn’t ring true.
However, neither does the scenario wherein young women are so inspired by the fact they can see a mannequin “just like them” that they learn to love themselves and embrace their body shape no matter what it is. “Look, a fat mannequin!” they will presumably cry. “Finally, society has ceased to judge us!” Concordant with that idea is the belief that all the other mannequins – the skinny ones – are causing epidemic levels of eating disorders as people strive to emulate their dummy idols.
How about this theory: mannequins are just mannequins, and nobody is basing any life choices on what shape their local shop dummy is. Furthermore, while we’re all arguing over whether a fat mannequin is a blow for freedom or an advertisement for heart disease, we’re failing to notice what it actually is: a means for a multi-billion-dollar corporation to market its products to you. In which respect, it’s doing beautifully, because Nike is getting oodles of free advertising while people, obsessing over whether the company is a good or bad social justice advocate, have entirely forgotten why companies exist: to sell stuff. And any good seller knows that the best customer is the one who doesn’t know they’re being sold to.
So whether the fat mannequin is healthy or unhealthy, what we can agree on is that she is very, very good at her job. And that’s a strike for dummy equality in itself, I guess.