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Body confidence: Debenhams unveils 'average woman' size 16 mannequins

They will appear beside size 10 dummies at flagship store in Oxford Street, London

Debenhams has become the first high street store to launch plus size mannequins on the shop floor, in a bid to promote female body confidence among shoppers.

The new mannequins, which were trialled three years ago, will be showcased at its flagship store in Oxford Street, London.

The mannequins will appear alongside size 10 dummies on all women's fashion floors, before being introduced in all 170 of Debenhams' UK stores.

Size 10 is the standard size for mannequins on the high street, a far cry from the dimensions of the average British woman. Despite this, high street stores are more commonly associated with slender models and clothes draped over slim mannequins.

Debenhams director Ed Watson said: "The average British woman is a size 16, but the high street has been showing their clothing on a mannequin that is three sizes smaller - until now.

"Having worked on this project for three years, we hope that it will help people in some small way to feel comfortable about their bodies and, crucially, that other retailers will follow."

The move was supported by equalities minister Jo Swinson, who has led a Government drive to promote body confidence among women.

She said images popularised by fashion magazines suggest there is "only one way of being beautiful", when research highlights that nine in 10 consumers want to see a broader range of body shapes in the media and advertising.

"That's why the Government has fought hard to challenge our looks-obsessed culture", she said.

"Recent research found that women are three times more likely to buy clothes when the fashion models are their size, so I hope more retailers will recognise that meeting customer demand for more diversity makes good business sense."

Debenhams has a history of defying conventional methods of advertising fashion and clothing lines by using a disabled model for the launch of its Principles range, banning airbrushing on swimwear advertising and running a lingerie campaign featuring a model over 50.

Reaction to the introduction of the mannequins has been largely positive and many commended the retailer for recognising and representing women with larger body types, with Verity Brown, a Miss Plus Size International finalist tweeting: "About time too!". However, some Twitter users argued the models were not representative of the body of a size 16 woman.

Isabella Venour tweeted: "I love the thought behind this but it looks like they've just stretched the hips?! I'm size 10 and don't have legs that thin!", while Joanna North argued "that mannequin was never a size 16!! Not even a 14. Shame on you #debenhams! If you're going to do something bold do it right!"

Additional reporting by Press Association