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Do Mannequins Menstruate?

Do Mannequins Menstruate? Science says…

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Mannequins do not menstruate, and  this is not just because they are made out of plastic.

Here are some images of mannequins in clothes and fully nude. I think this difference is important to pay attention to because seeing mannequins in clothes the majority of the time impairs our ability to process just how specifically manufactured they are to drape clothing just so and to go beyond all reasonable body size aspirations. We don’t regularly see what’s underneath. But what’s underneath is nothing but angles and Barbies.

Note, for example, how hip bones often jut out, which is a way to cause skirts and pants to taper and hang low and stereotypically sexy. Note also how waists are tiny. Note also how legs are longer than the list of activity on my credit card accounts. Which is to say – Long.  Disproportionately so.

mannequin clothes

mannequins clothes

Female-Mannequin 

female mannequins

All_6_Plastic_Mannequins

Female High Quality Mannequins899

To which I can only say, holy crap thigh gap.

Mannequins are problematic for a lot of reasons. One of the worst is that this is a subconscious problem. We are well aware of the damage magazines and celebrities and runways and the like do to our self-love, but how often do we consciously acknowledge the power mannequins have over us?

Not very often.

Which is unfortunate – because it has been at least somewhat scientifically proven that mannequins do not have a high enough body fat percentage in order to menstruate.

Here’s how:

 Two Finnish researchers, Minna Rintala and Pertti Mustajoki, tested standard accepted body fat percentages for women against measurements they made on mannequins (of arm, thigh, waist, and hip circumference are all standard means by which to measure body fat percentage) they found in Finnish museums that were from the 20s, 30s, 50s, 60s, and 90s.

Women need, on average, at least 17% body fat to begin menstruating. The researchers also use the data point of 22 % body fat for regular cycles – though I would argue that this is a statistic biased from the sample being drawn from the super industrialized nations of Western Europe and the United States. For the purposes of our investigation, however, their standards hold since we are largely of industrialized nations such as the US. Our mannequins, we should also note, are typically about 5’10 — the same size as the “fit” models on runways.

In this study, the pre-WWII mannequins had levels of body fat that were consistent with those seen in a healthy, young female of reproductive age population: up to 23 percent, at least.  All the way up to 23 percent! That feels incredible – though it makes me sad to write that sentence. Women are known to be quite healthy up to and around 30 percent.

Starting in the 1950s, the estimated body fat on the mannequins decreased significantly. By the 1990s, a significant number of mannequins would not have sufficient body fat to menstruate if they were, you know, actual people. Check out the graph below. The bars detail body fat percentages for hypothetical women of “healthy” body mass indexes of 20-25. In the early decades the mannequin measurements come close, but in later decades fall far below a healthy BMI (note also that the WHO standard for “healthy” BMI goes down to 18.6..though this is contested, as in all things).

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Who cares about the body shape--check out the hair!!
So what do we do with this knowledge?
Stop expecting clothes to look on us like they do on mannequins, I think.
And think about that maybe not even as a neutral thing, but as a good thing.
Sure, there are women out there with body types as slender and tall as mannequins with as little body fat, and perhaps naturally so. That’s great – beautiful – natural, what-have-you. I am sure some of them menstruate, especially if they live in less industrialized countries. But the majority of us plain old are not, and its a simple fact that extremely low body fat percentages result in impaired fertility, and, hey, isn’t it cool that we have enough body fat to menstruate?
And, hey, isn’t it cool that we know (more about which forthcoming in a HuffPo article by yours truly) that runway models starve themselves precisely in order to be the same size as mannequins, and that when we do the eat-sufficient-calories-healthy thing we are simply doing the human thing?
And, hey, isn’t it cool that we have lumps and jiggly parts and quirks and scars that only real human beings who love and dance and have sex and laugh can have, and not ones made out of plastic?
Mmmmmm humanity.
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Managing director of Paleo for Women and author of Sexy by Nature.

8 Comments

  1. Pingback: Surprise!? Mannequins don’t menstruate. | Paleo Digest

  2. Yes to all of this; start making clothing, and you learn that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘the fault is not in us, but in our clothes’. Making my own clothes is the single best thing I’ve done to free myself of the tyranny of the mannequin!

    • nice! I aspire to that. All in good time, I suppose :)

    • I was going to say the same thing! This reminds me of a recent post on Gertie’s Blog for Better Sewing regarding the proportions of mannequins and line drawings recently– specifically the exaggerated height and leg length.

  3. YES. Such a brilliant, under-the-radar observation. I stopped shopping a long while ago (existing in a state of pajamas after my literal skinny jeans, circa anorexia, stopped fitting), but I finally decided to suck it up and go to the mall this past weekend.

    Holy thigh gap, indeed, Batman. Not only did NOTHING look “as good” as it did on the mannequins, nothing even fit the mannequins! Seriously–have you ever noticed how they pin the clothes on mannequins so that they’ll taper in “just so?” It’s so frustrating because a trip to the mall is one part optical illusion and one-part fun-house mirror.

    Which is why I think I’m just going to keep wearing my pajamas to the coffee shop.

    • I have the same feelings – I stopped wearing jeans, because I feel uncomfortable wearing them – so I just stick to dress/leggins/pajamas :)

  4. I’m interested in finding out why clothes often look better in the mirrors of department stores and specialty clothing boutiques than they do in the harsh lighting of the “real world.” Do some stores use tilted mirrors or some kind of special lighting in the dressing rooms?

  5. I need to use mannequins to advertise my products and I complain to the dealers of the unrealistic body proportions. Some are improving on this. Thanks for clarifying the realistic, deeper issue. Hopefully, more will listen and make appropriate improvements.

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