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What an unusual Swedish mannequin reveals about body image

Correction: Earlier versions of this blogpost erroneously described the mannequins in question as an Internet hoax. They were not used in H&M stores, as the original online postings claimed. But they have been used at the Swedish department store “Åhlens.”

LONDON — A photo of two “plus-sized” mannequins went viral earlier this week when a blogger at Women’s Right’s News posted it on Facebook to an overwhelming response. Last I checked, the page had 57,000 likes and17,000 shares.

The original posting said the fuller-bodied, scantily clad mannequins were in use at the trendy Swedish department store H&M — a claim that turns out not to be true.  Instead, they are on display at a different Swedish department store — though H&M said it did not rule out using such models in the future. Regardless of which store has them on display, the visual representation of “zaftig” models in the fashion industry has clearly struck a chord.

Let’s face it. Part of the mannequins’ viral appeal was no doubt the illusion that they came from Sweden, that Nordic bastion of pushing-the-envelope cultural fare that brought us the likes of Ikea and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” We all secretly want to take our lifestyle cues from Sweden. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.)

But the excitement and interest generated by the mannequins run much deeper than that. “Call it a hunch, but I think we could have quite a discussion here,” wrote the popular syndicated columnist Connie Schultz on her Facebook page, where I first viewed the image. Which is clearly what Women’s Right’s News was after in posting the photos: “Store mannequins in Sweden. They look like real women. The US should invest in some of these,” read the caption.

An in-your-face message about the need to project more realistic, healthy body images to women and girls might easily have been lost, had the appetite (no pun intended) to hear it not run so deep. But it’s an encouraging sign of the times that we’re beginning to push back against the anorexic ideal that is so deeply embedded in our commercial and cultural aesthetic.

Last year, I wrote on these pages about a protest in London in which women dumped diet books in front of the British Parliament to highlight the toxic effect of diets on our physical and mental health. In 2007, British health officials demanded that stores in London’s fashionable “High Street” shops stop using stick-thin models in an effort to reflect the wide range of sizes and shapes of British women. Last month, Displaysense, a mannequin wholesaler, reported a surge in sales of mannequins above size 12.

Nor should the backlash be confined to female body images. We’ll know that we’ve truly evolved when we no longer feel the need to forever dissect N.J. Governor  — and possible GOP presidential contender —  Chris Christie in terms of his weight, as opposed to the weight of his policies.

This is all really positive, because we all know how damaging our obsession with body image can be. I was horrified to read about a recent study that found that among teenagers who smoke frequently, 46 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys are smoking in part to control their weight. The practice is significantly more common among youths who describe themselves as too fat than those who describe themselves as about the right weight.

I’m not naive enough to believe for one second that two plumpish plastic dolls clad in purple undergarments can change the world. (For starters, as many online chat groups have already noted, if these mannequins are “plus-sized,” then we’re all in trouble.)

But you’ve got to start somewhere. Let’s hope that these mannequins begin to trend beyond Twitter…

Delia Lloyd is an American journalist based in London who was previously the London correspondent for Politics Daily. She blogs about adulthood at, and you can follow her on Twitter @realdelia.