Critics of new plus-sized mannequins called out for 'fat phobia', experts defend Nike's messaging

Kiwi experts are getting behind plus-size Nike mannequins in the UK, calling out critics for "hurtful and inappropriate" stereotyping.

Nike's new plus sized mannequins. Source: Nike

The sportswear giant introduced the new plus-sized mannequins to a London store earlier this month in order to be inclusive and showcase diversity.

For the first time the store has a floor dedicated to "multiple plus-sized and para-sport mannequins", Nike says in a statement.

Since its release though, the concept has drawn debate. Some people say it’s good and showcases all types of bodies, and others disagree, saying the overweight model sends the wrong message that being an unhealthy weight is okay.

A column called "Obese mannequins are selling women a dangerous lie" by English journalist Tanya Gold, for the Telegraph, reads: "The new mannequin is obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement."

People have taken to Twitter criticising the piece, with one user saying, "if you think obese women can’t run you’ve clearly been living under a rock." The commenter compares her body to the mannequin and says she ran a 10 kilometre, half and full marathon this year.

Another commenter says the article is " disgusting", and another called it "ableist, fatphobic bull...."

But the journalist wasn't the only one critical of the display. A Twitter user commented, "Errrr.... NO.... unless you count eating as a sport" and others criticised Nike's use of plus size models as "promoting obesity and unhealthy living".

Kiwis experts, however, are getting behind Nike's messaging.


ABC Nutrition dietitian and director Angela Berrill told 1 NEWS she is in "full support" of the mannequins and hopes to see more brands and stores taking the direction.

"People come in all shapes and sizes and therefore mannequins and all advertising materials should reflect our diversity. 

"A person's body shape or size is not a reflection of their health - a person in a bigger body can be healthy, just as someone in a smaller body can be unhealthy."

Ms Berrill says advertising is often highly edited and photoshopped "nipping and tucking bodies, to fit some preconceived idea of what is normal or beautiful".

"These unrealistic images of body shapes and sizes are not reflections of reality, or in some instances even achievable or safe," she says.

She says the resulting feelings of negative body image and body dissatisfaction can lead to lowered self-esteem, mental health disorders and eating disorders. "Instead of body-shaming, we need to accept and support those in larger bodies."

Body Balance Nutrition non-diet nutritionist Jess Campbell agrees, saying, "we actually have is a cultural obsession with thinness, and for many, especially when it comes to viewing a plus-sized mannequin in a fitness store - is extreme discomfort in recognising that large bodied people are consumers of athletic wear and do indeed engage in physical activity and movement."

She says the topic should never have been a debate, saying commentary has "simply weaponised the mannequins, and more widely body positivity at larger bodies as a health crisis".


Massey University senior lecturer in human development Cat Pausé told 1 News it is appropriate for a plus-sized mannequin or model to showcase the clothing to be worn on plus-sized bodies.

"We are inundated with anti-fat messages everywhere we go ... The fat hating world we live tells fat people "you have to exercise for me to consider you a person" because, you know, they are trying to "be better", and then does not provide them roads they can walk without harassment from strangers, or clothes to exercise in, or a gym with exercise equipment rated for fat people’s safety.

"It tells fat people "you have to exercise for me to consider you a person", and then freaks out when a mainstream company uses a "fat" - to me the mannequin does not look fat - mannequin to demonstrate exercise clothing posed in an exercise related pose."

She says the best way forward is to acknowledge that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, "and all of those bodies need to be clothed".

New Zealand style blogger, Meagan Kerr, says she finds it "really strange" that some people are so offended by the idea of plus-size mannequins.

"Are they not aware that people come in a diverse range of sizes, and no matter what size they are they might want to wear activewear?"

Ms Kerr, who blogged about Nike coming out with its plus size range in 2017, says it clearly shows that Nike caters for a range of different bodies.

"As a shopper I’m more likely to shop at a store that uses diverse bodies in their advertising. Nike has used plus size people in their advertising for some time now, and it’s about time that their stores reflected this."


When asked if the use of overweight mannequins send the wrong message about being overweight, she says, "I’m not sure what the issue is - a store that sells clothes in plus sizes is using a plus size mannequin, that should be the norm.

"To the people who think this "sends the message that being an unhealthy weight is okay" - sit down, your fat phobia is showing."

First Retail Group managing director Chris Wilkinson says the mannequins are "an excellent idea and a representation of inclusion that's necessary from our brands and retailers".

"To automatically assume consumers with a larger frame are overweight is as much an insult by those complaining, as the brands that use only size eight models," he says. "It's hurtful and inappropriate to stereotype people and the users of certain types of products.

"To say all activewear shoppers are trim and athletic is a good case in point. We've seen the damage these types of stereotypes create for younger people or those struggling with weight issues."

Mr Wilkinson says brands and retailers have an obligation to consumers to represent the wider population.

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