Debenham’s Launch Size 16 Mannequins: Are ‘Real’ Women Finally Being Reflected In The Fashion World?

By Andrea | November 18 2013 | 59 Comments

The years I spent in Sydney have left me with some stinging syntax. If I don’t like something, I am liable to crinkle up my nose and describe it as average.

But this is a bit unfair. Because isn’t average perfectly good? Statistically it’s the goddamn winner and wears it’s mean little crown with Pythagorean swagger.

The average woman in our little corner of the world is 5ft 3, weighs 11 stone and is a size 16. And Debenhams are embracing this curvier figure with the unveiling of their new size 16 mannequins.


Topshop and M&S use size ten mannequins while Wallis and Dorothy Perkins lean towards a slighter larger size 12. And we can all testify that clothes that look great on these acrylic ladies may not translate on a different shaped, live and breathing lady.

Debenhams have made quite a name for themselves in the marketing industry. They are not afraid to be the first to put their toes in relatively unchartered, fashion waters. They made a promise earlier this year to stop airbrushing models in product shots and called on other retailers to do the same, calling it their “moral obligation” to stop the practice.

When its Principles range was launched, they opted for Stefanie Reid as their model of choice. Reid is notable for a number of reasons. She is beautiful with fine, dainty-doll features and is also a Paralympian amputee.


The store launched Elomi lingerie back in 2012, a brand which designed for the fuller figured woman. And they included a lady in her 50s in a recent underwear campaign. All little ripples in the advertising world but together, they are making quite the wave.

In a retail world where digital enhancements, token diversity and regimental cookie cut staff are de rigeur, their representation of today’s average woman is refreshing. And no doubt beneficial to their sales targets. Great for everyone’s bottom line then.


It has opened a debate however as to whether this is sending an unhealthy message – is it promoting an image that is ultimately unhealthy? The body mass calculator would categorise these measurements as being overweight. And the detractors say this is as incongruous as using a size zero mannequin.

Either way, it seems that new fashion equation rules are being derived.

Do you think Debenhams are to be applauded for accurate representation or do you think it sends an unhealthy message of acceptance?

Fashion, Underwear, Life, Diet & Wellbeing, Feminism , , , ,

59 Replies to "Debenham’s Launch Size 16 Mannequins: Are ‘Real’ Women Finally Being Reflected In The Fashion World?"

  • Áine says:

    I think they’re to be applauded but I would have a concern that maybe we’re more accepting of being over weight than under weight and they’re arguably as bad as each other.

    Is there a happy medium we could be taking? I suspect while they’re bringing in new mannequins they’re not the 5ft 3 inch average height. Why choose one measure over another.

    • Andrea says:

      That’s a great point! I never thought of their height. Topshop use tall mannequins which show the clothes in a completely different way to how they would appear on the average Josephine Soap.

  • Tina87 says:

    I have to agree that this is encouraging an unhealthy acceptance of being overweight.
    No matter how much you love your curves the human body was not designed to eat the crap we eat or carry so much weight. I know there are big people out there who will say “i have no health issues” “im fitter than my size 10 friend” etc but this is not the norm and these people are very lucky, their helath will catch up with them. I just dont think we should have our kids growing up seeing these manequins and thinking, oh thats the size i can grow up/out to be and its fine.

    • Adeline says:

      I completely agree with all those comments. It’s unhealthy to only use mannequins that are unrealistically skinny and 6′, but it’s just as unhealthy to normalise overweight bodies.

      My pet peeve is all those campaigns generally replace one stereotype by another for their “real” woman (I hate that term so much). I’m 4’11 and would like to see shorter mannequins for a change.. Even Topshop petite line is often too big for me.

    • izo says:

      It could take two years to get from size 16 to a size 10, assuming you have normal responsibilities and aren’t obsessive. No harm looking your best in the mean time. For some people, feeling bad about perpetuates their weight problem.

      I don’t think overweight people should feel awful about how they look. They can still wear nice clothes, have nice hair, small waists, be busty, have pretty faces, smiles. I know some people who really struggle with it though.

      I do like being skinny myself but it shouldn’t be so idealised.

      • Adeline says:

        Yep I agree with all your points. I think my main problem with this whole thing is that they’re bringing out larger size mannequins so people don’t feel left out, but by doing so they’re still excluding a huge chunk of the population.

        I quite like being ridiculously short, but have some girl friends with a real complex about their height or because they’re naturally stick thin with a flat chest. Store mannequins do not look like actual bodies for many reasons, but sometimes it’s a bit tiring to see that people only seem to get upset about only one of those reasons and are happy to ignore the fact that some of us don’t feel represented either. (sorry, I’ll step off my soap box now :) )

  • Joanna says:

    I’m ok with the mannequins, I realise that they are probably more my shape than the stick thin ones, and yes they will be probably be taller than me (not difficult, I’m 5″ 1 12′) What bothers me is when they put clothes on the mannequins and then pin them and tuck them so the clothes look nothing like they do on a real body, clothes are never allowed to hang, they are manipulated to look their best on an inanimate object. It’s steal cheating as far as I am concerned.

    • annieapple says:

      Totally agree with your point about pinning the clothes Joanna! The amount of times I’ve seen a dress on a mannequin in a shop and thought it looked lovely, only for it to look like a sack on me (in the right size). Not much point increasing the size of mannequins of they are still going to be tall and perfectly proportioned. I’m a size 8, 5 foot 5, with short legs and small boobs- I don’t really feel any of these mannequins represent women shaped like me.

  • OtherMary says:

    Ehh, size 16 is hardly morbidly obese and about to keel over from a heart attack. Size does not correlate directly with health.

    These mannequins are only bigger but otherwise just as proportional as smaller size mannequins. Whatever size they are, unless you are the same shape and are going to pin clothes on yourself, things are going to look different.

    • IceQueen says:

      I agree – size doesn’t always correlate directly with health. I am a size 12, my best friend is an 8 and I know I am healthier than she is.

      But in saying that, if the size 16 mannequins are the start and they keep bringing out bigger ones each season (or whenever) then it COULD end up with an unhealthy body promotion image?

  • IceQueen says:

    I am so happy to see the comments above. I agree whole-heartedly. The last thing that these places should be doing is promoting a body image that could end up being unhealthy.

    Although to be fair, I never look at clothes on the mannequin. I usually look at something on a hanger and if I like it, I try it on – whether a 6ft size 0 mannequin OR a 5ft 3 size 16 mannequin, clothes look different on everyone so this doesn’t make a difference to me.

  • Amy says:

    I’ve a real issue with the term “real women” being bandied about to describe curvier women in the fashion world, just because I’m a size six doesn’t make me any less of a woman than someone with more meat on her bones, just as being a plus size girl doesn’t make you a hideous lump undeserving of beautiful clothes. I feel like it’s being used as a method of building bigger women up whilst tearing smaller ones down. It’s unfair to expect all women to be the same either way. Women, “real” or otherwise, are attacked enough without other women contributing to it

  • LisaN says:

    I hate the term “real women” that you’ve used in your title. I know that you didn’t mean any offence but it’s becoming common place to describe average, overweight and up as curvy and as “real women”. The term implies that naturally lean or athletic women are somehow lacking and are the anomaly. Can’t we just say that the new mannequins represent a broader range of women’s body shapes without (un)intentionally offending each other?

    • Andrea says:

      Really well put, Lisan! Like I said to Amy, Star Trek hologram women have not yet been invented (much to the chagrin of certain men I imagine).
      But the title is very much intended as a question because those in favour of the launch are using this EXACT phrase to praise it.
      My interpretation of its use is that it’s a descriptive example of the backlash against the pressure women feel to emulate what is seen in the airbrushed magazines but I can understand completely why people would feel offended by it.
      Women see saw between what they perceive to be in and out (*Heidi Klum voice*), what is in favour and what is no longer deemed attractive – it’s no wonder we feel dizzy.

  • Cabbage says:

    Hate the implication that anyone under a size 16 is not a “real woman”. Like I don’t feel bad enough about my teeny tiny boobs already :-(

    Have to say I find the glorification of curvy “real women” as worrying as the ubiquity of anorexic teenage models. Healthy bodies of all sizes and shapes should be celebrated – but “curvy” is becoming an accepted label for what should be referred to as “overweight”.

    For me, a “curvy” woman is a Beyoncé or a J-Lo figure.

    • IceQueen says:

      Oh I’m so happy you said this. I genuinely thought I was the only one who thought that the word “curvy” was bandied around too much in the wrong way.

      There is a difference between being overweight and being curvy.

  • polkadotty says:

    Cabbage that’s so true, The word curvy is being bandied about way easily, for me, as you said, curvy is JLO, Beyonce and Kim K.

  • izo says:

    I think shops should have a range of mannequins of different sizes to show what suits different shapes. I’m much shorter and narrower than most normal mannequins so dresses look frumpy on me compared to mannequins. Unlike a mannequin, I can’t go around with my clothes pinned to me.

    It’s just the best way to sell clothes. Only having size 10 mannequins is like a make up counter only having medium shades of foundation- yeah I wish I was that colour but I’m not!

    And Lisan, “real women” is a silly phrase. If someone thinks they’re a woman, whatever their size and even if they were born male, they’re a woman in my books!

  • Noreen says:

    I just wonder whether on a purely commercial level this will work. The think about the model like manequins they have at the moment is that for the vast majority of women looking at them, the “woman” in the window looks at least as good as, and probably better than she does. I don’t know how to put this delicately, but many women looking at the manequin on the left in the first photo will look and privately think she looks worse than I do, and shy away. Others will look and think, though not better than me, she’s distinctly average, I don’t want to fork out X for that average look. Don’t we all on some level want to believe we will look better after a significant purchase?

    • izo says:

      Noreen, it’s an interesting experiment and they will stop if it doesn’t work. Most fashion is designed for skinny girls and will look better on them. But a good stylist can make size 16 look nice. Smart jackets, boots, good use of waist belts, accessories and colour.

      • Noreen says:

        I’m not saying that a 16 can’t look nice, but I’m saying I think the manequin will only appeal to 16 up. They are going to have to keep a lot of 10 manequins to appeal to people under that size.

  • peachgirl says:

    I think it’s positive. Some dept stores here use size 10, 12 and 14 (equivalent) sizes to show clothes, passing on the size 8 (this size if used in the teen section). Mannequins here are somewhat taller (like the population itself) so there’s no “unhealthy” BMI with larger sizes, if you are taller you can carry more weight. The problem of mannequins always having “perfect” prportions remain; I think this is the main issue customers have; what looks good on the hourglass shaped mannequin will never look the same on my ruler-shaped body. So maybe that’s the next step; different shapes as well as different sizes and heights?

  • thefrog says:

    Years ago, les Galleries Lafayette started their ‘virtual’ model on their online shop. You could chose among a range of characteristics for your chest/breast/waist/height and so on. And then see how the clothes would look like on ‘you’. I thought this was the way forward, but I have yet to see it done by other brands and I’m not even sure the GL still do it.

    I’d love the clothes in shops being shown on a short size 10, a tall one, and same for 12, 14 and yeah 16.

    Agree with the points above on the pinned clothes (what the point?), the use of curvy instead of slightly/moderately overweight (it’s “ronde” ie round here, which is stupid too), and this new ‘real woman’ (my large arse is real but my tiny boobs are what then? Unreal?).

    An yeah, I’m a bit uneasy at 16 being shown as some sort of new ‘normal’. It’s unhealthy for some, perfectly fine for others. It’s no more normal than 8.

    @peachgirl: where is this wonderful ‘here’ where shops have different size in mannequins? I want to emigrate!

    • Cabbage says:

      I can confirm that the Galleries Lafayette don’t offer this service any more (or at least not in either of the cities I’ve lived in over the past few years!)

      I agree re: pinning the clothes to mannequins, this infuriates me totally. Tops and dresses appear to have a lovely tailored fit when they are actually totally different in real life!

      • thefrog says:

        I did a bit of Internet archeology and yes, it aw an experiment in 2000. I was almost sure they hadn’t continued it, but since I don’t shop there (if I go to a department store it’s the Bon Marché, I’m a left-bank snob ;) ) I couldn’t vouch for it.
        It’s a pity it didn’t catch on, really

  • Laura G says:

    To be fair are they supposed to have a hape of different mannequins all different shapes, sizes and heights so suit everyone? You can keep them all happy! I do think it is a big difference between some places that has teeny tiny mannequins to these new size 16 ones, both are equally just as bad! But not all outfits are on mannequins, sometimes I barely notice them, try clothes on and judge for yourself.

  • Lucy says:

    Topshop do on my ARSE use size 10 mannequins, anyone thats ever seen their window display in Jervis with the twig-like, miley cyrus waisted mannequins would call bullsh*t on that. I pointed it out to the OH one day and even he was like jesus thats ridiculous!

    I can understand where Debenhams are coming from with the size 16 mannequins, but I think the execution is leaving a little to be desired. The mannequins are proportioned like no real size 16 woman I’ve ever seen, all perfect curves and skinny arms. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking what a difference arm size can make to an otherwise lovely outfit!

    But anyway, I think it’s almost as if they’re overcompensating for the skinny models everywhere, like they decided “we’ll be different!” but went a bit too far. While it may be the average size here, size 16 is still quite a large size (not that you’d know it from those mannequins, but on real life normally proportioned people it is), and people weren’t asking to see “large” mannequins. People just want to see normal sized ones, not ones with the waist of a 6 year old, or ones that say “Hey guys, look how progressive and different we are, using bigger mannequins in our non-plus-sized shop!!”, but something in between.
    I mean at the end of the day mannequins are still there to model an ideal of how the clothes could look, but if it could just be a more realistic ideal that’d be great, since now I have 2 different sizes of mannequin to feel alienated by!

    I totally don’t mean to offend anyone with the way I’ve phrased anything, or my use of the word “normal”, I understand that there is no normal, everyone’s bodies are normal in their own way, but I hope people understand what I meant and if I offended anyone I am sorry!

  • Kittykat says:

    I never even notice the mannequins to be honest, unless its got my size on and its out of stock in the shop.
    I prefer to try the clothes on for myself and judge that way.
    I think its a ridiculous notion that somebody somewhere was so offended at size 8 – 10 or whatever mannequins that they decided to roll out a size 16 version. What next – male mannequins with different sized testicles I expect.

    • izo says:

      I love window shopping- I always look at mannequins. Some shops put great effort into window displays and I do get ideas from the outfits.

  • candi says:

    The mannequins look like they all have thigh gaps ;)

    Jeez I never look at mannequins just at the clothes on the hanger. Maybe am in the minority. They are bits of plastic how can they ever be called ‘real’ women….

    • IceQueen says:

      Exactly!! I never notice the size or shape of a mannequin. I sometimes notice the clothes but usually I just go into the shop and look on hangers. And if I like it, I might try it on but usually I just buy and try it on at home!

  • Cat says:

    Topshop uses size ten mannequins?! A very special size ten indeed… Their size 10 skinny jean is slightly too big for me – so there’s not a HOPE those mannequins are wearing anything bigger than a dryer-blasted 6-8.

  • B says:

    Hate all the ads for, I love their clothes and I’m a size 10-12,unfair!

  • Acat says:

    I think it is strange to pick a size 16. My friend is a 16 and a lot of the clothes in Debenhams look awful in that size, they have the proportions all wrong. Maybe they should spend the money and creating clothes that actually fit real size 16 and not having the clothes pinned and pulled to suit the very well proportioned 16 mannequins!
    I also never look at mannequins. I love the photographs or displays in shops where they show an outift and how to wear/style the clothes, much more effective.

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