A few mornings ago, I (along with about a drillion other people) awoke to a story on Yahoo's home page about a picture of mannequins in a Swedish H&M store that was posted and went viral.
Mannequins don't usually captivate the imaginations of droves of people.
But these weren't ordinary mannequins. Which is to say they were, yes, still creepy...but not in the way we're all accustomed to and comfortable with the mannequin creep factor. These mannequins were creepy because they seemed so real...like women you could almost walk up and talk to, or tickle. Like women you might actually want to associate with.
It's all about the curves, baby.
Lookit that! I swear the one in front could have been molded from my own body, squishy stomach and all (except my mannequin would need a dose of cellulite, for good measure).
Why did the internet go nutso after this photo, and that squishy stomach, saw the light of day?
It's obvious, right? Women took a look at this, reportedly a size 12 model and thought 'now that's a body I can relate to.' I mean, not all women. There are plenty of muffin tops and swimmer shoulders and apple-bottoms still waiting for their comeuppance. But many, many more women could see echoes of their own bodies in these figures than the typical, straight-sided, size 2-4 models we are more familiar with. It's not even so much about the size (the one in the back is still very thin), but about the softness factor...the thighs that *almost* touch each other in what my family has lovingly come to refer to as "chub rub."
There was a time--a long time (15 years or so--as many years as I've been cognizant enough to have strong opinions about the role of media in our culture)--when I would have been deeply opposed to the idea of gaining any sort of idea of self-worth, positive or negative, from something like a mannequin.
I remember when, newly enrolled in a college Women's Studies program, a friend of mine was raging against the dearth of positive, realistic lesbian or bisexual characters in movies and t.v. My response was a big 'so what?' "Why would you be looking to t.v. or movies to reflect you anyway? That's not the job of t.v." She responded by pointing out that I was of an age and had an education that afforded me the luxury of making that distinction, and that many young girls aren't there yet or may never be. Probably harshly, probably arrogantly and flippantly, I said it was every girl's prerogative to chose to get educated. As recently as two years ago I wrote about how to call attention to Christina Hendricks's bodacious curves (even positively) was to focus on the wrong thing.
I see it a little differently now. Of course I still feel it's every girl's prerogative to educate herself--to honestly and fearlessly explore her relationship with self-image as it relates to media and to understand the ways in which she is daily and relentlessly being manipulated, sold to, exploited, and even celebrated (come on people, it's not ALL bad). And I still feel an actress deserves to have her performance regarded at least as often as her booty is.
Yet I noticed a subtle but significant change in myself the day I read the story about these H&M models. I noticed myself wearing my child-bearing hips a little more proudly. I looked at that soft part of my belly a little more forgivingly in the mirror that evening. How is that possible? I'm a 34-year-old woman, decently comfortable in my own skin, aware of the effects of the media ideal and the youth-worship factors, feminist.
And still...it mattered.
It matters because, fair or not, stupid or not, masochistic or not, most of us will have moments in which we find ourselves comparing our bodies to those we are surrounded with in marketing and media. (A few months ago I looked at my post-breast-feeding breasts in the mirror and actually lol'd. They looked nothing like Halle Berry's, skin color aside. What gives?). A little bit of forgiveness, nodded in the direction of our "imperfections," is meaningful, is a step in the right direction.
Maybe, one day, we'll cease to see women's bumps and curves as cringe-worthy mistakes in need of an air-brusher's or mannequin maker's skilled hand. Until then (yes marketing people, I relent; it *worked*) I may just be doing some more shopping at H&M.