Slim, white and young? Debenhams launches size-16 mannequins

Campaigners for women's representation were celebrating today after Debenhams rolled out size-16 mannequins to better reflect "real women's shapes".

The chain, whose average female customer is 44 years-old, has become the first to use the realistically-sized mannequins. Most use size-10 dummies.

"Women are fed a diet of images which suggest that there is only one way to look great – and that is to be very slim, white and young," Jo Swinson, women and equalities minister, commented.

"That is the look which is pushed onto all women, regardless of their body shape or age. It is reinforced from the catwalks right through to shop mannequins – which is why I support Debenhams' decision."

Swinson called on other chains to follow Denenhams' lead, but refused to single out particular retailers for blame.

"I don't want to point the finger at just a few brands. But younger women need to have healthier body images promoted to them, especially when the UK has rising rates of eating disorders. All shops have a role to play," she said.

The dress size of the average British woman has grown from 12 to 16 in just over ten years, but the type of mannequin on offer has remained typically at size-10 throughout.

Debenhams ran a pilot with a couple of size-16 dummies in 2010 and was impressed enough with the response they began to produce them in-house.

The new mannequins will be unveiled in the company's Oxford Street shop before being rolled out nationwide.

"We've developed our own range of size 16 mannequins to sit alongside our usual size-10 dummies," Debenhams director Ed Watson said.

"We felt it was important to better represent what real women actually look like when advertising our clothes."

The mannequin project comes after a decision by the company to promise to stop using airbrushed models, with a pointed suggestion that other companies had a "moral obligation" to follow suit.