mannequins and self-portraits, seeing me


If we think of mannequins at all, we think of the ubiquitous figures we see standing in store windows everywhere. But the development and history of mannequins is fascinating. The term mannequin is from a French word, coming from the Flemish word meaning “little man.”

The very first mannequins were dressed up dolls. But the mannequins we see today have been derived from the dress forms tailors use. Mannequins have been made of everything from wax (not a good idea) and paper mache, to fiberglass.

In the past, mannequins were also called “dummys.”

At times, mannequins have been considered “naughty,” especially while being “dressed” by merchandisers in shop windows. Mannequins have changed with the times, mirroring what’s going on in society in general.

And while mannequins have always been idealized versions of the female form, they have never been real.

Diversity In Fashion

I’ve been talking about the need for diversity in fashion for a long time, it was one of the reasons I started blogging. At first, my particular concern was diversity of age. Not surprisingly, my interest soon came to embrace other marginalized groups.

One group of women especially, had long been ignored by the fashion industry.

Women who had come to be called “plus-size,” had always been relegated to the back pages of fashion.

Then, seemingly overnight, things began to shift.

Real pioneers started staking out their territory, and they did it with wholehearted passion. 

The women at Universal Standard are one such example.

Inevitably, that kind of passion swept others with it. Today, it’s not just older women that are walking the runways. Plus-size models are now a regular part of the fashion weeks, where trends become traditions. But are these changes permanent?

How do we know when a trend is not just a trend but a permanent change? 

My unscientific answer is, you feel it. You can feel the change gathering momentum and approaching a tipping point.

Tipping Point

Who is Ralph Pucci? A gallerist, an arbiter of good taste, and apparently, an heir to a family of mannequin manufacturers. Last week I visited his wide open, light filled, New York gallery to see the “Sizes” installation of mannequins sized up to 16. 

The people at Universal Standard, whose clothes some of these mannequins are wearing, tell us both why it matters and how we know the change is about to become permanent.

“It matters because this is evidence that the industry is waking up and recognizing that it’s no longer sustainable to ignore the 67%. When a seasoned veteran like Pucci takes steps toward inclusivity, it means a revolution is brewing, and change is in the air.”

Perhaps this is the end of unrealistic mannequins in store windows? The mannequins that appear to list, because they seem to lack the weight to ground themselves. I hope so.

Going Nude

Inspired by Jamie Beck, of Ann Street Studio, over the past few days, I’ve taken some nude/semi nude pictures of myself. It’s a challenge in so many ways! First, of course, I’m not a skilled photographer. And while I love my iPhone, I know that what I can capture with it, is limited.

There’s power in the “selfie” though, a power that women of all ages have come to discover.

The self-portrait has existed for a long time, and some of the reasons for this are obvious. Chief among them, you are a ready subject for yourself. But I also like the “closed loop” of the self-portrait; it says, “look at me, looking.” 

Is the self-portrait an inherently selfish and anti-social act?

Some people seem to think so. There have been articles written about the psychology of the selfie, I particularly liked the title of this one: “It’s Not You, It’s Me: The Science Behind the Selfie”

Girl Gaze

Mostly the “writer psychologists” talk about how selfie taking might be a sign of narcissism, or even psychopathy! Hmmm, tell that to Cindy Sherman. 

Some believe that there’s a difference between male and female selfie takers, but this seems self-evident to me. Women like Sherman and Beck tell stories with their work, and stories don’t just objectify.  

What I know is, women are talking about the “girl gaze,” seeing ourselves through our own eyes, not through the eyes of a man and a society dominated by men. 

Whether you’re gazing at a mannequin that finally looks like you, or a picture of your nude self, as long as you are able to sweep others along with you, I feel nothing but good can come of it.

To be able to say, “yes, it’s me, I am no longer invisible,” that’s powerful. 


The Laundress, perhaps you’ve heard of The Laundress? The Laundress is a company that makes a whole array of laundry and fabric care, and home cleaning products. What I’m most interested in here though, is their fabric care products, one in particular.

The Laundress wool and cashmere “shampoo” is the nicest hand washables wash out there. 

It’s a mild, eco-friendly wash that works! 

It has a very pleasant, light cedar smell that makes me sniff my just washed sweaters too many times to look sane in public.

And while it costs more than the Woolite I used to use, I’ve found that in addition to the non-toxic properties and the great smell of the product, the small amount I have to use makes the cost well worth the results.  

As we all know, one way to get off the fast fashion treadmill, is to take good care of the clothes we have, so that they’ll last. 

This Laundress product can help you do that in the most pleasant way possible. And it’s a great gift, especially if you’re also buying someone a sweater. 

Check out The Laundress blog here.

P.S. This is an unpaid endorsement.
P.S.S. I use the wash for all of my sweaters, not just wool and cashmere.




  • Melanie says:

    I like that you spell mannequin this way, not as manikin and happy to see real life being reflected.

    The nude selfie project – whoa! That’s excellent. I’ve taken selfies since my early teens, not for display but I think to figure out who I am. And it’s odd because I abhorred having my photo taken by someone else for public show. I’m curious about how your series will evolve.

    I can’t help but feel that women have been regarded as accessories in so many ways that selfie-taking is a form of self-assertion/existence or the search for it. Impossible to express in a few sentences. I adore Cindy Sherman.

    • Anita Irlen says:


      Yes, absolutely, selfies and self-portraits are definitley about self-assertion and existence. And as far a I know, men are not doing it quite in the way women are, delving as deeply into the process and meaning of the whole thing. And yup, how could I not know you adore Cindy Sherman! I swear, you were separated at birth 🙂

  • I’m beginning to explore self-portraits as a way of documenting my life and my aging process. Not sure where I’m headed but the idea appeals to me.

  • Haralee says:

    I love your posts Anita! We have been cleaning out the warehouse and found our first mannequin, a Victoria Secret hammy-down. She is so small that we have had to always clamp up the back! I found a wire mannequin this summer that is full hip, real life looking silhouette!

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