In the ongoing debate over how the media shapes body image, surprisingly little ink has been spilled over the issue of mannequins. These pale, de-individualized figures quietly and insidiously represent normality despite being so exaggeratedly thin and distorted that clothes usually have to be pinned back on them. The 99.5% of us who don’t need our clothes pinned back found some solace in the Dove Real Bodies campaign in 2004, but attempting to better represent the bodies of the masses can still often be problematic. The ad agency Jung Von Matt/Limmat was fortunate to have their client – disabled advocacy organization Pro Infirmis - encouraging them to take a fresh approach to this sort of work.
For the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the agency worked with a mannequin maker, introducing him to several people with unusual bodies due to disorders such as scoliosis, shortened limbs, and brittle bone disease. Among them were model Jasmin Rechsteiner, who was Miss Handicap 2010, athlete Urs Kolly, radio host Alex Oberholzer, actor Erwin Aljukic and blogger Nadja Schmid. He took their measurements and modified existing mannequins to precisely portray them, because “Who is perfect, anyway?”. The mannequins went on display yesterday on Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse, in the windows of PKZ, Schild, Modissa, WE Fashion, and Bernies. The reactions of the models to the mannequins created in their image seems to have been very positive; one man tried his prosthetic shin on the mannequin to see that it fit perfectly. “It is special to see yourself like this, when you usually can’t look at yourself in the mirror,” said another. Passerby at the store window were surprised and moved.
Though Dove has been criticized for prioritizing appearance too much, potentially causing women to worry about it more, Jung Von Matt/Limmat can hardly be accused of such considering their project’s context. A clothing store window may be the most unambiguously commercial place for it there is, and it’s therefore both prominent and non-invasive. The campaign is more of a critique of the fashion world than of society at large. Plus, by focusing on the beauty of a group whose physicality is, when not marginalized and disparaged, ignored entirely, they are superficial in a way that is actually welcome. And Jung Von Matt/Limmat does know how to dig deeper: another campaign for the same client put a disabled man in a cuddly bear costume, which allowed him to give and get big hugs in the street.