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Nike Town women's space plus-size mannequin diversity
Courtesy of Nike

People hate that Nike’s plus-size mannequin makes fat women feel welcome

The Nike flagship store in London debuted a new size of mannequin, and ugly fatphobia has once again reared its head

Some people really hate fat women. If it’s not your doctor telling you that the source of your not weight-related medical problems is that your BMI is in the 30s – even though BMI as a system has been widely criticised – it’s celebrities like Tess Holliday receiving death threats just for being fat. We have gotten used to fat women in media being the butt of the joke, or the epitome of everything we should not strive to be. Then, on the rare occasions that something different happens, people lose their minds and accuse all involved of ‘glorifying obesity’ – because who wouldn’t want a body that makes people wish you were dead!

When Nike unveiled a plus size mannequin in its flagship store this weekend, it was business as usual. Tanya Gold declared in the Telegraph that ‘the war on obesity is lost’, describing the mannequin as “immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat”. She doesn’t, because she’s a piece of plastic, but it’s what that plastic represents that people find so intolerable. Not just a fat woman, but a fat woman living unapologetically, who exercises without weight loss being the be all and end all. There she is, wearing a sports bra, stretching her body before going to exercise in public. You’d expect to see a thin person in this pose, but never a fat one.

Despite everything I’ve just said, effort has been made so that being fat is more socially acceptable now than before – or at the very least, it’s less socially acceptable to publicly berate fat people. That’s why we have fat models on magazine covers, and why more and more brands are beginning to offer plus size ranges running into at least the mid-20s. Still, some of those brands don’t actually stock their plus size ranges in store, lest a fat person actually go in there. They want our money, but they don’t want to be seen taking it.

Nike clearly wants our money, and lots of it, but by putting a fat mannequin onto its shop floor it’s at least making it explicit that fat women are welcome. That’s significant anywhere, but perhaps more so in sportswear. Despite every fat person being told that the people who abuse us are only doing so ‘for our health’, we receive just as much hostility when exercising. Fat women are jeered at while out running and laughed at in gyms. That’s what happens when you combine an environment that is heavily associated with weight loss and six packs with the fact that no matter where you are, you’re always going to encounter people who find your body objectionable.

If fat people are supposed to lose weight because our bodies are unacceptable, you would think exercising would be the one thing we could do without being criticised and harassed. We can’t, because the issue with fat people isn’t really that we might be unhealthy but that others find us revolting. Nike isn’t going to change any of this by selling plus size workout gear. True acceptance would be the understanding that whether fat people exercise or not, and whether we want to lose weight or not, we are deserving of the same respect as everyone else. I want to be able to walk down the street without the fear that someone is going to shout at me to eat a salad (again) - not because I do, but because it doesn’t matter either way. A big mannequin isn’t going to make that so.

“When it comes to changing perceptions, normalising fat people’s existence in public spaces is important”

Nike have made it explicitly clear that fat women are included in their audience, and not just as an afterthought or an also-ran. We’re meant to shop there, we’re meant to wear those clothes and we’re meant to exercise if we want to! When it comes to changing perceptions, normalising fat people’s existence in public spaces is important.

It’s exactly because those perceptions are changing, even if it is slowly, that people are so upset to see a visibly fat piece of plastic advertising exercise clothing to visibly fat humans. The idea that fat people can be out in public accessing the things that they want that are designed for them must be horrifying for people who would rather we didn’t exist at all.