Nov 28, 2012— -- Department store mannequins with plus-sized curves have had quite an oversized reaction in the blogosphere. When a user of the online forum Reddit posted a photo of a big boned display model under the heading "Anyone else horrified that they make obese mannequins too now?" it received hundreds of comments and thousands of "up" votes.
"Obese people being sold clothes?" said one typical post in favor of the mannequins. "That's just treating them like people."
"OMG, it's about time! I've always hated seeing the size I have to get displayed on a much smaller model, then trying it on to see that it looks completely different on me," read another supportive comment.
And another said in defense of the mannequin: "It's not fat, it's just big foamed."
Not everyone on the site agreed that bigger is better.
"I just fear that obese will become the new normal as we try to be politically correct about it. Being obese is not the same as being black/gay/whatever," one commented.
Another wrote, "The problem is that most people who are fat take any medically accepted way of reducing their weight as ridicule. They then attempt to dissemble said fact and prove to you how they are a special case and that you are really being judgmental for assuming that it's the doughnuts they are chugging that are making them fat. Sorry, I'm done with the fat people sympathy wagon."
The online debate reflects a real-world conflict. Nearly 70 percent of Americans now fall into the overweight or obese category, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average American woman is a size 14. Yet in a sort of reverse vanity sizing, the typical store mannequin remains a svelte size 4 or 6.
Ed Gribbin, president of a mannequin manufacturing company, Alvanon, said he thinks he knows why.
"There is an ingrained mentality of merchants that clothing in smaller sizes looks more appealing -- it's also why runway models are so small. They believe there is an aesthetic appeal that is violated by using larger sizes in their displays," he said.
According to Jennifer Thomas, a body image expert and assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, retailers may be right in hesitating before they upsize their displays.
"Walking into a store and seeing nice clothes on a mannequin that has a body type similar to your own could be a huge boost for self-esteem, but it might also backfire," she said. "A lot of fashion is aspirational, such that people hope they will look like the mannequin if they buy the clothes. In our society, most people would rather be thin than obese."
According to Gribbin, some retailers are beginning to fatten up their floor models in response to consumer feedback.
"They certainly don't want to be seen as passing judgment on anyone and plus sizes are now the majority of sales for many," he said.
Besides the unnamed store in the Reddit post, J.C. Penney quietly introduced more amply proportioned models in its stores in 2009 and TV retailer QVC has been using Alvanon's size 18 and 20 mannequins to hawk clothing on air for the past six years.
Gribbin estimates the mannequin in the Reddit post would wear a plus size 24-26. That's probably larger than most retailers would be willing to display.
Either way, most Reddit users do seem to agree the model is creepy -- and it would seriously benefit from having a larger head, less sausage-like fingers and more realistic proportions.
As one commenter put it, "It's like the person who made this has never seen a fat person before."