We’re in an age where people are using their voices and dollars to demand visibility and recognition. When plus-size is “represented” in media or runways, it’s often a 12 or 14. While there is more visibility, it’s still limited. Plus size people of prominence get beauty shots, not body shots on magazine covers. Plus size models going down the runway are sans stomachs and flab. So when Nike quietly released a size 16/18 model in London’s Oxford Street store, most people were pleased.
The plus size mannequin is not a new concept. You will see them in plus size stores like Lane Bryant and department stores that carry size inclusive brands, like Macy’s and Rachel Roy.
The plus-size mannequin features thick thighs, a flat stomach simultaneously holding some fat, and soft arms. As a size 14 woman, with a body that is shaped similarly, I felt seen and celebrated. While weight and health is correlated (yes, it’s true that it is harder to recover from injury when you are obese), size and exercise are not. People of all size exercise and people of all sizes deserve high performance exercise gear. This mannequin is part of the revamped women’s space which is dedicated to “celebrating diversity and inclusivity of sport.”
Plus size women are often intimidated at the gym, a phrase called gymtimidation. While the gym is a place to get in shape, women of a larger size are often stared at and made to feel uncomfortable. Hence reasons for places like Curves (a gym for women) or classes that are geared directly toward plus size women. How you look or what you wear can have an immediate effect on your self-esteem. Plus size women deserve, need, and want clothes that they can wear to help take care of their bodies and isn’t the same outfit that consists of a gifted t-shirt from an event or an outfit they wear to clean the house.
The irony and energy that society always tells plus size women to “work out” is the same energy that people are using toward Nike, appalled that they would even consider “normalizing obesity.” Tanya Gold, a writer for the Telegraph, wrote a fatphobic op-ed entitled, Obese Mannequins Are Selling Women A Dangerous Lie. “She is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement. What terrible cynicism is this on the part of Nike?”
This automatic stereotyping of larger bodies, without being a doctor or even knowing someone’s medical history is isolating and irresponsible. People that are upset seeing a plus size mannequin doing the exact same thing that you are upset that plus size people apparently aren’t doing is such backwards and problematic thinking. Throughout her article, her words are laced with fatphobic commentary like, “She heaves with fat,” illustrates a larger problem. We’re so careful about Black Lives Matter, focused on inclusion within the LGBTQTI community, however, when it comes to larger bodies, fatness is the misfit of marginalized communities. The plus-size population remains ridiculed, disrespected, and isolated. No wonder the community is so strong, at times, it’s literally all we have.
The body shaming of an inanimate object illustrates a larger problem in society surrounding the idiosyncrasies surrounding plus size women and their bodies.