La Perla removes mannequin with protruding ribs: if beauty comes in all sizes, why does fashion force-feed us skinny?

In so many magazines, the implicit message is still: 'thin is good, fat is bad'

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The Independent Online

There is nothing sexier than witnessing a woman so thin you can see her ribs. Skin stretched over the outline of her bones, a body so slender that her tummy scoops deliciously down from her ribcage. She’s achieved the impossible; she’s even smaller than her skeleton. If you too starve yourself, men will adore you and women will admire you. Fail to live up to our high standards and you don’t deserve our clothes. They will never look this good on you.

That hideous and outrageous message is implicit when fashion brands model their clothes on mannequins so thin they look sick. It’s one of the reasons why a gaunt, emaciated dummy spotted in a window of La Perla’s shop in New York caused a social media furore. Thankfully, amidst the ensuing Twitter storm, the mannequins were removed. A statement from the lingerie label said it was now “redesigning all La Perla stores with a new concept image.”

To be fair to La Perla, painfully thin models are nothing new. It’s hit headlines this time because it's more palatable to criticise a shop dummy instead of a living breathing model. We aren’t used to seeing such raw-boned mannequins on the high street instead of the catwalk either. Yet there is no excuse for showcasing clothes on such a frame in either setting. While it’s true that some women are naturally thin and they shouldn’t be demonised for their size, it remains that incidences of eating disorders are on the rise. More than 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders and last year hospital admissions rose by 8%. There are more deaths from eating disorders than from any other mental illness. The condition doesn't just tear families apart, it is deadly. Around 10% of all sufferers die as a result of their condition. These disorders are incredibly complex illnesses and can’t be blamed on fashion’s fascination with thin. However nightmarish accounts of models swallowing tissues to feel full just reinforce the idea that the industry’s artistic obsession with thin is hurting real people. If beauty comes in every shape and size, why does the fashion world insist on force-feeding us skinny?

Women’s magazines should take their fair share of the blame. Glamour shows women how to use makeup to make themselves look thinner. Marie Claire ran a piece on styling tips to ‘look slimmer and sexier’, as if the two are necessarily connected. Elle US tweeted “7 style tricks to make you look skinny” only two days before calling out La Perla for its “scary-skinny rib showing” mannequins. Of course none of these articles suggest starving yourself is the route to looking good, but the message behind these pieces is implicit: thin is good, fat is bad. In reality, body weight has no moral value whatsoever.

It’s impossible to “feel fat” too, despite Elle opening with: “everyone has days when they feel fat.” You can feel bloated, but fat is not an emotion. When many women say they “feel fat” they are really just saying they feel rubbish about how they look. Fat is now used a by-word for low self-esteem, an umbrella term for all our negative feelings about body image. La Perla’s mannequin makes me angry because putting sexy underwear on a super-skinny model only serves to emphasize this harmful narrative. This monsterquin makes women feel bad about themselves, suggesting that in order to be loved and desired, they need to be stick thin. It’s total crap. I’m a size sixteen and guess what? I’ve still got great friends and people still want to sleep with me.