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The shop window can be seen as a “microcosm of consumer culture that reflects it’s changing ideals and also how those changes might affect the desires of the consumer” (Engdahl & Gelang, 2019). Behind these shop windows we can usually find mannequins which are more than just a block of moulded fibre glass and plastic.

Plus-size mannequins spotted in a mall in 2022.

Whilst wandering through a department store, I happened to come across a not so typical male mannequin. “Is that a plus-size male mannequin?” I gasped under my breath to my cousin. (Yes, we all get excited over different things). The thing is, I had never seen a plus-size male mannequin in person although I have an active interest in body image research as a third year Psychology student. It was a big deal to me because it’s a sign of progression and inclusion in a very promising, yet under-delivering, fashion industry.

Plus-size is a term predominantly used in ‘the West’ (North America and Europe) and typically refers to a size of clothing designed for people who are larger than average (according to the Cambridge Dictionary as of mid-2022). There is generally a lack of consensus on the definition of plus-size and also what size range plus-size applies to. Presently, plus-size research has mainly focused on women, whether it be women’s experiences of being plus-size or on women’s plus-size bodies in the media. Despite this positive progress, many consumers, models, and supporters of body positivity question why similar research concerning plus-size men hasn’t gained traction as of yet when plus-size men certainly exist (Thompson & McKinney, 2020). Many of those who regard themselves as ‘plus-size’ feel rather neglected by clothing retailers in terms of genuine representation and accessibility to quality clothing.

Back to the topic of mannequins, after conducting a study on the size of mannequins used in high street fashion retailers in the UK, Robinson and Aveyard (2017) highlighted that on average, female mannequins were underweight, potentially promoting unrealistic body ideals. In comparison, a number of male mannequins appeared to be unrealistically muscular.

What is more, mannequin research also suggests that female mannequins have negative consequences for both male and female consumers low in appearance self-esteem (Argo & Dahl, 2018). Consumers who are lower in appearance self-esteem evaluate products displayed by mannequins more negatively compared to those with higher appearance self-esteem. If a consumer cannot reach the unattainable beauty standard of a mannequin, why bother wearing what it’s wearing too?

There is one reason why plus-size mannequins aren’t mainstream – and it may be due to stigma towards plus-size and obese models. According to research by Aagerup (2022), individuals’ implicit associations towards obese models do not reflect the positive attitudes that they openly express. In other words, people may say, “Yeah, I’m okay with plus-size models, love ‘em”, but it may not be reflective of how they really feel.

Recently, research has shown that the use of models with diverse body sizes in fashion advertising can have a positive effect on brand attitude (Joo & Wu, 2021). That being the case, Aagerup (2022) posits that brands only use (a handful of) untraditional models to not only project an inclusive and relatable image, but to also reduce the likelihood of criticism from consumers and body positivity activists.


Aagerup, U. (2022). Men’s and women’s implicit negativity towards obese fashion models. Journal of Global Fashion Marketing, 13(3), 273-288.

Argo, J. J. & Dahl, D. W. (2018). Standards of Beauty: The Impact of Mannequins in the Retail Context. Journal of Consumer Research, 44(5), 974-990.

Engdahl, E. & Gelang, M. (2019). The changing ethos and personae of shop-window mannequins within consumer culture: Expressions of gendered embodiment. Journal of Consumer Culture, 19(1), 21-46.

Joo, B. R., & Wu, J. (2021). The impact of inclusive fashion advertising with plus-size models on female consumers: The mediating role of brand warmth. Journal of Global Fashion Marketing, 12(3), 260-273.

Robinson, E. & Aveyard, P. (2017). Emaciated mannequins: a study of mannequin body size in high street fashion stores. Journal of Eating Disorders, 5, (13).

Thompson, M. L. & McKinney, E. C. (2020). “The Men’s Plus Size Apparel Market: Bigger, but Not Better”. International Textile and Apparel Association Annual Conference Proceedings, 77(1).


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