Nike mannequin wars: ‘Obese’. ‘Inspirational’.

Just do it: Over 20 million adults in the UK are physically inactive.

Should all shops display plus-sized mannequins? Nike has led the way. But it has started a bitter row with some saying it is glorifying obesity and others praising the move as inspirational.

We all know what high-street mannequins look like: tall, skinny — and highly unrealistic.

But, now, Nike is modelling some different body shapes.

In the athletics brand’s flagship London store, a plus-size mannequin stands proudly, stretching out for a run. Nike says it wants to “celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of sport”.

To promote the new mannequins, curvy influencers like Denise Kokinis and Chloe Elliot have been modelling the brand’s sportswear on social media.

Nike first launched a range of plus-size sports clothes in 2017. Its designs go up to a size 32, bucking the trend of many athletics labels that do not cater for women larger than a size 16 (the average UK size). In November, River Island removed its plus-size range from shops.

But not everyone is celebrating. In a controversial piece for The Telegraph, Tanya Gold argues that Nike is “glorifying obesity”.

“The new mannequin is 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,” writes Gold.

She goes on to compare Nike’s decision to fashion brands that promote size-zero models. The fat-acceptance movement, she argues, is encouraging women to live in denial about the link between obesity and cancer, heart disease and other serious health issues.

Her words have sparked a huge backlash, with Gold being widely accused of fat-phobia.

Responding to Gold in the same newspaper, Rebecca Reid observes, “Too often, women are put off from exercising by a fear of judgement.”

Reid describes how, at size 14, she was embarrassed to exercise.

“I pounded the treadmill, convinced that everyone was judging me,” she writes, concluding that “plus-size gym clothing can’t be a bad thing if it helps more women sweat”.

In the UK, just 8% of girls aged 11 to 18 meet the Government’s recommended daily hour of physical activity. Twice as many boys manage it. At school, only 56% of girls enjoy sports and PE compared with 71% of boys.

The trend continues into adulthood: 40% of women over the age of 16 are not active enough.

One size fits all?

Should there be plus-size mannequins in every shop? Tanya Gold argues that displaying larger bodies could normalise obesity, and the health risks that come with it.

But, according to plus-size activist Callie Thorpe, “It’s ludicrous that fat people are mocked, bullied and told to get to the gym and lose weight —yet we are also told we don’t deserve the access to active wear.” What could possibly be the harm in opening exercise up to everyone, not just those who already look fit?

You Decide

  1. Do you like to exercise? Why or why not?
  2. Would you like to see plus-size mannequins in every store?


  1. Make a poster about how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  2. For a week, keep a diary of the physical activity and exercise you do. Each time you exercise, make a note of how it makes you feel. At the end of the week, reflect on your diary. Are you happy with how much physical activity you get? Do you feel better when you exercise?

Some People Say...

“The human body is the best picture of the human soul.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Austrian philosopher (1889-1951)

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Nike has started using plus-size and para-sport mannequins on the third floor of NikeTown, the brand’s flagship London store on Oxford Street. Many of the para-sport mannequins are modelling football kits designed by Nike for the Women’s World Cup, which is being held in France now.
What do we not know?
How much of a role genetics and lifestyle play in causing obesity. Doctors also disagree over whether you can be “fat but fit”. According to Harvard University, most research shows a clear association between weight gain and health problems. However, people who appear thin on the outside — but lead unhealthy lifestyles — can still carry dangerous visceral fat around their organs.

Word Watch

The biggest or most important shop owned by an organisation.
Bloggers, mostly found on Instagram, who are paid by brands (or given free gifts) to advertise products to their followers.
Equivalent to a UK size 4. For many years, the fashion industry has been criticised for promoting unhealthy body shapes by using models who are underweight.
According to NHS figures.
According to research by Women in Sport.


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