Affronting? Glassons' protruding rib mannequins

AIMEE GULLIVER
Last updated 15:10 10/10/2014
Emily Robins/SUPPLIED
Emily Robins/SUPPLIED

TOO THIN?: 'Making people feel inadequate is the easiest way to get them to buy something,' said Emily Robins after tweeting this picture of a mannequin with visible ribs at Glassons' Albany store.

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Fashion retailer Glassons is under fire for using "incredibly thin" mannequins which perpetuate body image issues among its young target audience, women's health experts say.

Auckland University law student Emily Robins, 25, who was an actress on Shortland St until 2007, took a photo of a mannequin displayed in the Glassons store in Albany, Auckland.

Robins said the Glassons mannequin was not just selling a bikini, it was selling an idealised body image.

"Making people feel inadequate is the easiest way to get them to buy something," she said.

While being confronted with messages about unattainable beauty was nothing new, the Glassons mannequin demonstrated how normalised it was becoming.

It was not the only store responsible for promoting such ideals, but Robins hoped drawing attention to the "ridiculousness of a six foot, plastic, non-faced 'woman' with ribs will encourage a resistance to this becoming normalised."

Hallensteins Glassons Group chief executive Graeme Popplewell said Glassons had always had a policy of monitoring the models it used, and the body image portrayed by models and in-store mannequins.

Glassons was "always across these issues and have a good feel for what is and is not acceptable."

"The key is that due to the position of the mannequin with the arm elevated and slightly twisted, the rib cage is naturally enhanced as it would be in real life," Popplewell said.

"The store lighting spotlights also increase this effect."

The mannequin's proportions meant it would have a "healthy" body-mass index (BMI) of 18.8, Popplewell said.

The healthy weight range in the index, calculated using height and weight measurements, was between 18.5 and 24.9.

A 2011 University of Otago and Ministry of Health survey showed the average BMI for a Kiwi woman was 27.6 - classified as "overweight".

University of Waikato health education lecturer Debi Futter-Puati said the "incredibly thin" mannequin was "disturbing".

"When I look at that image with all her ribs showing, the message it's sending is that that's desirable and that's the way you're supposed to look as a young woman."

A woman the same size as the mannequin would be underweight, and at risk of health issues, Futter-Puati said.

Glassons had a social responsibility to all its customers to portray "real" New Zealand women.

"What's the message they're hoping to give by using a mannequin like that - that if you wear our clothes you'll look this so-called 'good'?"

The store's "tween" market, girls between 10 and 12, who were still developing would be exposed to the image, and the myth that you had to be thin to be healthy, she said.

"Let's ask Glassons to have a diverse range of women's shapes and sizes that portray much more everyday New Zealand women. Let's be real."

Women's Health Action director Julie Radford-Poupard said the mannequin was "full-on, undoubtedly."

The group called for retail stores to take responsibility for the image they put out to customers, and have mannequins of a range of shapes and sizes.

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Poor body image had a "profound effect" on young people, and the mannequin emphasised slenderness as a beauty ideal, she said.

Popplewell said the mannequin in the Albany store was in 25 other stores throughout New Zealand, and had been used for over six years.

The same mannequins were used globally by stores including TopShop, Harrods, Dior, David Jones and Peter Alexander.

Popplewell said the company's visual merchandising team was reviewing and looking at ways to make sure they continued to maintain the correct image to customers.

Internationally, budget British clothing store Primark, and Italian lingerie retailer La Perla, have attracted widespread criticism for using mannequins with protruding ribs, and have subsequently removed them from store displays.

The mannequin La Perla removed from stores after complaints. Picture: Twitter/MRudoy

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