Global Mode: Swedish Fashion Mannequins

First they were attributed to H&M, then rightfully to the chain Åhléns. The internet’s uncanny but well-documented ability to stir up controversy and spread false information among cut-and-paste “news outlets” is exemplified with the newest “fat stigma” issue to “go viral:” a photo of Swedish mannequins featuring non-traditional body types–for mannequins, anyway.

The photo, actually taken in 2010 by a Swedish blogger named Rebecka, has randomly surfaced again and created a rabid internet debate. Some call them refreshingly “real bodies,” some argue that we in America would consider the proportions displayed “plus-sized” and discuss the linguistic issues therein. Rebecka has even started a new website to claim ownership of the photo and corral the virality of the debate, spread from websites as broad in quality of original coverage as The Business of Fashion to the Huffington Post.

Photo of “plus-sized,” “full-figured,” “zaftig,” “insert-your-euphemism-here” mannequins at Swedish department store Åhléns, 2010. Photo: Rebecka at

Not only misidentified but misattributed (or unattributed) on Facebook pages and recent news articles, I think this photo and the surrounding debate is more important for its intellectual property issues than the body image/fashion mannequin implications: who didn’t pick up on this photo three years ago? With no intention to belittle the serious, endemic body image issues created and maintained by fashion models, mannequins, and magazines, this online debate is so last year (and the year before that, and the year before that…). With thousands of enthusiastic–and vitriolic–comments on both Facebook and under the various news articles on this topic, what does it take to make anyone do more than just post about it?

We know that one photo can have huge emotional and social power (see: Dorothea Lange/Migrant Mother and the book No Caption Needed by Robert Hariman and John Lucaites), but what role does the photographer–or in this case, Facebook poster–play? Although they did not properly attribute the photo, Women’s Rights News reached many more readers/viewers/commenters in 2013 than did in 2010.

Is it significant to global readers and commenters that these mannequins were used in Sweden (as opposed to America, China, Estonia)? Does it matter that this photo was taken in 2010, and should that fact be taken into account in the ongoing debate about healthy body image? Does the provenance of the photo and its proper attribution mean anything, or is the message enough? Is any publicity is good publicity for a good cause? 

Let us know what you think below!

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