Perhaps it took inspiration from the 1987 film Mannequin, but H&M found itself in hot water yesterday as it was forced to reveal that the bikini bodies on its website are in fact doctored photos of shop dummies.
The Swedish fashion chain seems to think that even models don't have good enough abs for their site, as they have superimposed women's heads on to the bodies of computer-generated mannequins instead. The skin tone is simply altered in each picture to match the face of the model.
Industry and charity figures criticised the technique yesterday for presenting young women – and even models – with unrealistic body images.
Carole White, the founder of Premier Model Management and former agent for Naomi Campbell, said the practice was new to her. "We haven't come across it and, in fact, it's the first time we've seen it. But I don't think it's representative [of women's bodies] at all," she said.
"Shop and catalogue models are different to catwalk models, who tend to be straight up and down. People relate to them as they're real, beautiful girls and not a drawing, which is what this is."
The chief executive of the eating disorder charity Beat, Susan Ringwood, said: "We understand why you need a mannequin to stand in a shop window, but not when you could have a real living body instead."
A spokeswoman for H&M said: "The technique can be found being used throughout the industry. It is regrettable if we have led anyone to believe that the virtual mannequins are real bodies. This is incorrect and has never been our intention."