Old Navy has used curvy mannequins in its stores since 2018, when it reintroduced plus to its brick-and-mortar business. The impact has been nothing short of remarkable, according to Partridge: “It’s just one more step in making her feel included and a part of it, and like we’re proud to offer products for her.” She recalls an instance when one customer told her that seeing mannequins of varying body types in one of their stores made her feel proud to be her size. “It was this sign of inclusivity and it made her feel good,” she says.
Target began implementing plus mannequins in stores around the same time. And it has certainly not gone unnoticed. “At Target, inclusivity is part of everything we do…It’s so important that all guests feel a strong sense of belonging,” says Michelle Mesenburg, Senior Vice President of Marketing. “Guests have shared that they appreciate that our mannequins reflect a range of body types, and we’ll continue to listen to our guests to ensure we offer a shopping experience where all feel welcome and represented.”
But why, exactly, does having a plus-size mannequin in your store have such an impact on shoppers? The reasons are plentiful—and oftentimes emotional.
For starters, seeing a mannequin in a window that looks like them lets a customer walking by know that, if they come in, they’ll likely be able to find something in their size. Instead of having to uncomfortably go up to a salesperson and ask if their size is even sold at that particular store—still a common experience for people who wear a size 14 or above, despite it being the average size of an American woman—they can often know right away what to expect.
“For a lot of people, it can be a frustrating, annoying, or embarrassing experience,” says plus-size fashion blogger Sarah Chiwaya. If she sees clothing on a plus mannequin, she’s more likely to stop and shop there. Of course, no singular mannequin can accurately represent the spectrum of plus-sizes—each person carries their weight differently, so really, you’re just seeing a regularized version of the plus body—but as Chiwaya explains, a larger mannequin makes it much simpler for customers to envision how a garment will look on their body and whether or not it will compliment their figure.
The impact of seeing different bodies in a catalog, on an e-commerce product page, or on the store floor goes beyond simply letting shoppers know that they can shop there. It helps turn the conversation around body diversity and inclusivity, much of which happens online, into something tangible. It no longer feels abstract or unreachable for a fat woman or man to feel welcome in a store. Rather, it becomes the norm.
“It takes away the stigma ultimately of different-sized bodies,” says Amanda Scriver, a freelance journalist and body image advocate. “At the end of the day, that’s what matters. Fat visibility is important. Period. Full stop. We need to continue to fight for it and having mannequins in-store helps provides others a realistic view of the different body types in this world, different body types just like mine.”