Tanya Gold: 'Obese mannequins are selling women a dangerous lie'
Nike's flagship London store has introduced plus-size and para-sport mannequins to its redeveloped women's floor.
I fear that the war on obesity is lost, or has even, as is fashionable, ceased to exist, for fear of upsetting people into an early grave. Nike Inc, the multinational company named after the Greek goddess of victory, has introduced plus-sized mannequins to its flagship store in London to "celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of sport". They wear the famous Nike tick, which says: welcome to the mainstream.
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Yet the new Nike mannequin is not size 12, which is healthy, or even 16 - a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman. She is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat.
She is, in every measure, 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. What terrible cynicism is this on the part of Nike?
Advertising has always bullied women, but this is something more insidious. I have watched the spindly, starved creature - the child ballet dancer - who was, for many years, the accepted ideal, walking down the Paris runways in so much makeup you could miss the signs of malnutrition. It was an ideal designed to induce enough self-hatred that women would shop to be rid of it.
Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. Or so says Don Draper in Mad Men. But the truth is not so pretty; it is unease that sells clothes and bags and perfume and cosmetics as redemption. If anything, the body shape that followed the ballet dancer - the Kim Kardashian body - was even weirder, and worse. It's both fat and thin - a pornographic body designed by gamers - and, if you are mad enough to want it, is only really achievable by surgery and sleeping in the gym.
I would never want a woman to hate herself for what she finds in the looking-glass. But to have control over your body you must first know it; to be oblivious is not to be happy, unless you are a child.
The fat-acceptance movement, which says that any weight is healthy if it is yours, is no friend to women, even if it does seem to have found a friend in Nike. It may, instead, kill them, and that is rather worse than feeling sad. Fat-acceptance is an artifice of denial - they are fat because they do not accept themselves - and a typically modern solution to a problem, if you are a narcissist. It says: there is no problem. Or if there is, it's yours, not mine. As soothing as that may be to hear, your organs and your skeleton will not agree.
What is obesity? I would say, as a recovering addict myself, that it is most often - but not always - an addiction to sugars, and a response to sadness. And, as with all addictions, the only person who can save you is yourself. Recovery depends not on the collusion of multi-national companies or other addicts, but on personal responsibility and seeing the truth. And you do need to be saved. Nike can be as accepting as it wishes of the obese female but your own body will not be so accommodating of your delusions. The facts are obvious. Stay that weight and you will be an old woman in your 50s. The obese Nike athlete is just another lie.
But, increasingly, to say that is heresy. I have seen fat-acceptance activists campaign for public health notices, which tell people that obesity causes cancer, to be removed from public spaces. In the UK, they even tried to get a cancer poster, which tactfully reminded people of the risks, taken down from hoardings. How selfish, self-piteous and dangerous this is: obesity harms children more than adults. I once read a column arguing that fat people die young because doctors hate them. Really? Why don't you lay down your pen and just stop eating sugar?
The word "fat" should not be a slur. But it should be a warning. So, it worries me to see Nike, who promote athleticism, treating the obese model as potentially healthy in the cause of profit. It is as cruel as telling women that the child ballet dancer and the porn body are ideal. Where is the body shape between the tiny and the immense, which is where true health lives? Where is the ordinary, medium, contented woman? Where, oh where, is the middle ground?