Monday, May 17, 2010

Competing with the plastic man. I give up!

I was flipping through the May 2nd issue of New York Magazine the other day, and I saw an article that knocked me back.  It was about male mannequins, not a common topic of journalistic investigation.  This article featured a company largely unknown outside of the fashion industry, Rootstein, a British mannequin manufacturer.  This curious company was founded by Adel Rootstein (born in South Africa) who created her first mannequin in 1956 in London.  Rootstein is now the largest, and by their estimation, most prestigious mannequin manufacturer on the planet Earth (and I have absolutely no reason to doubt the veracity of this lofty claim).  

It would not surprise you to know that Rootstein makes male mannequins and has for many years.  What has made a bit of a stir recently has been the launch of a new line of male mannequins apparently named Hommes Nouveau.  What is scary about this new plastic denizen is that he is crazy skinny.  How skinny?  Well, perhaps a brief history of Rootstein mannequin sizes over the years (c/o NY Mag):

(I've been waiting for these sunglasses to come back in style...)
  • 1967, 42” chest, 33” waist 
  • 1983, 41” chest, 31” waist
  • 1994, 38” chest, 28” waist
  • 2010, 35” chest, 27” waist (Hommes Nouveau)
Really 27" waist for a guy?  In one interview with the designer from Rootstein, he indicated that they used teenage boys as models for the new series of plastic men (just like they do for women!).  

Well, maybe I've just missed something, and maybe 27" is not as uncommon as I thought.  Let's explore the data!  Fortunately, the CDC's handy NHANES study has distribution data for male waist circumference.  Here are a few fun facts:
  • Average adult male waist size 1988-94:  37.5"
  • Average adult male waist size 1999-00:  38.9"
  • Average adult female waist size 1988-94:  34.9"
  • Average adult female waist size 1999-00:  36.3"
  • % of adult men in 1999-00 survey with a 27" waist:  about 1%
  • % of adult men in 1999-00 survey with a 33" waist (1967 standard):  15%
  • % of women ages 20-29 with waist size of 27" or below:  less than 10%

Should any of this be a concern?  Consider the following additional statistics on the percentage of eating-disorder sufferers who are men (Source: The Prevalence and Correlates of Eating Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication; The Beauty Myth -- c/o NY Mag): 
  • 1990: 10%
  • Today: 25%
Could be correlation, but maybe there is some causation here as well.  It's hard to peruse the men's lifestyle magazine rack without seeing an unending display of dudes with six pack abs.  A lot of male fashion seems as geared to skinny jeans these days as it is for women, and certainly this is true as the frilly end of the male fashion spectrum.  There is clearly a disconnect between media perception of the ideal male figure and the reality of the adult male figure, which sadly marches in the other direction.  It's not hard to imagine how this makes life all the more difficult for the average guy dealing with a weight issue (not that the average guy subscribes to GQ, I realize).  

So what about me?  Do I look at emaciated male mannequins and beat myself up?  Truth be told, I don't really pay attention to mannequins other than for very occasional amusement/laughs.  I like nice clothes, but I don't worry about whether I can rock a pair of rock star Iggy Pop skinny jeans (well, maybe regular skinnier jeans).  Yet I do think that I hold myself to an unreasonable standard, and I tend to be too self-critical of my swimsuit self (see early post).  Am I influenced by the media in this way?  I would have to say that I am.  I probably get more of it from what I see in TV/film, and the whole Men's Health cover thing bums me out.  And those damned guys on the Jersey Shore?  We can't all look like The Situation (irony intended).  

Is this good for me?  Obviously not.  One could argue that being self-critical gives me an additional reason to stay on program, but deep down, it has to be self-damaging.  Again, to put it all in context, this is not a huge issue for me, and I don't spend massive amounts of time contemplating it.  Yet, I cannot deny that I do think about it.  Which is really pretty sad given that I have been able to get my waist from a 38" to a 34".  I should be nothing be thrilled.  

While I'm at it, one could fairly point out that I'm a guy in his 40's.  Really, what am I trying to prove?  What's next?  Rogaine and a Porsche?  Well, a Porsche would be nice.  

Self-critically yours,


  1. Wait a minute--you're the CEO of a major corporation and you DON'T have a Porsche?! ;)

    In all seriousness, I totally know what you are getting at here. The fashion industry is definitely screwy with a capital s-c-r-e-w-y. It's amazing to me that they're doing the same stuff with male mannequins that they have done with womens' for so long, but at the same time, I guess it's just yet another offshoot of the power of Madison Avenue. Um, back when ad agencies were actually on Madison and not in the meatpacking district. At any rate, you SHOULD be nothing but thrilled, and I hope you are. You have done a great thing for yourself & your family by losing the excess weight you once carried, and you do something great for many, many other people just by going to work every day.

  2. Even more than the Porsche, I find it funnier that he knows not only about the Jersey Shore show, but their names as well.

    Good Post!

  3. Give that mannequin a plastic sandwich, stat!

  4. Well, I know it is wonderful that you have posted a blog being the CEO of Weight Watchers, lost the weight to be healthier, look and feel better. Also, by having a blog you are making yourself even more accountable. The men with the 27" waists is totally unreasonable. Your humanism and down to earth personality are awesome. Keep up the great work!

  5. LOL!! I cracked up about the Jersey Shore thing too. I heart me some Dave K, that's for sure. Keep the blog posts coming, Mr. Boss Man!

  6. Could it be that the reason for the "downsizing" is that materials for mannequins is more expensive...everyone is reducing the size of the package, but not the price these days!

  7. Love your humour. I'm a total WW devotee but we must be reasonable. Even if we could achieve the "fashionable standard of weight", the purpose of WW is not to teach us to be stick skinny, but to be healthy. We have to be at the weight that is healthy for us; not anyone else.

  8. My husband has a 28" waist and let me tell you there are only 2 stores I can find this size. Recently they have discontued the 28" waist size and now the smallest size I can find is a 29". Hopefully the manniquins are smaller to save on materials and shipping

  9. Great post I loved reading this and the Jersey Shore thing was classic.

  10. My brother is a twig - and I think we measured him at a 30" a few years back. He is in great shape but almost too skinny. I can't imagine a 27" waist. Great post!

  11. David,

    Awesome post. However, I'm using WW tools to slim down to a size 38, a more rational, achievable size that I can maintain for the rest of my life.

    As far as the cars and Rogaine:

    1. The Elantra Touring model is cool, small, unusual and gets way better highway gas mileage (33).

    2. If people don't love you for who you are (hairwise)... well, you know the rest.

    Thanks for the continued inspiration!


  12. My 12 yr old son is thin and even he has a 29" waist!

  13. Something very few people talk about is what "skinny guys" have to go through in a culture that values burly muscle forms as superior.

  14. That is pretty gross. My 12 yr old is above average height & therefore weight. Like the previous poster said, my son is also above a 27 in waist. 31 to be exact, he is also 5'6!
    My 8.5 yr old is obsessive over his weight. He sometimes weighs himself several times a day and gets excited if he drops below his tiny 56 pounds. This is not something we condone. I constantly remind him he is skinny, if not infact in need of gaining weight.

    In our home we emphasize healthy eating and plenty of exercise. However, the kids especially enjoy their share of "junk food" and do so guilt free. We encourage "if your hungry eat". Just keep it balanced.

    I have to say, in general, I don't pay much mind to any manequin, other than the clothes they are trying to sell. Unfortunately, the sad truth is the cut of the clothing looks best on the obsessively overthin. Herein, the problem lies not with the manequin manufacturer, but with the clothing designers.

  15. Thank you for posting this. I have to say, I was delighted when the Lane Bryant commercial brought a similar issue to wide spread discussion and hope the article and your post have a similar effect. I've long been suprised and saddened that more people/companies do not speak out for a healthy body image--preferably more achievable for those of us engaged in a weight management journey.

  16. Wow - now if they would only make jeans in that size for my son! Really - he's 6'3", 16 years old and weighs 135 pounds. Jeans size: 30x34. It's sad what we have to live up to - men and women. What's worse is that those of us in our mid-40's with children, successful careers and happy lives beat ourselves up over not looking like a mannequin that is based on the body of a 16 year old.

  17. Not only are the women's mannequins not realistic, but the stores pin the clothes on them to make them look fitted when they're not! That drives me crazy to see a cute blouse on the mannequin, then find it on the rack only to realize that it is more of a baby-doll style than fitted! Does a size 2 mannequin really need its clothes pinned on? I didn't realize that this goes on with the men's mannequins, too. Thanks for a great post.

  18. Great article. I am the mother of four sons and I definitely know that young men today are concerned about their weight. My boys are always watching their waistline, and are sensitive about comments. BTW my oldest son is 24 and he is naturally thin and has a 27 inch waist!!! Maybe I should get him into modeling! LOL

  19. I only have time to quickly skim this posting, but as a very very concerned , frustrated and scared mother of a 17 year old son who has recently developed anorexia there is not enough shouting from the roof tops that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH with this ridiculous body image culture we live in ..... ENOUGH ENOUGH ENOUGH !!!!! My son has already been in an acute care hospital with dehydration and a dangerously low resting heart rate because of trying to work out and "get ripped" and have a zero amount of body fat ...... STOP STOP STOP!!!!! PLEASE !!!!!!!

  20. I think fashion and media are going more and more toward portraying humans as art; the image represents humans, but isn't realistic. Like the big smiley face :) Yup, looks sorta like a face, we know what it means, some people look sort of like that, but not really. Take a human form and meld it however you find pleasing seems to be the case, and we unfortunately seem to find skinny pleasing to the exclusion of everything else.

  21. A man with a 27" waist and a 35" chest? No thanks! I prefer my man to be bigger and stronger than I am!

    As a side note...THANK YOU for Weight Watchers! It's the only program that has helped me succeed!

  22. I find this totally unbelievable!!! My son is 15 years old, 6'-2" tall and is very lanky. He doesn't have an ounce of fat, weighs 132 pounds and he STILL has a 29 inch waist. I can't believe they think full grown men would be able to wear anything of the sort. The scary part is that because of today's messed up body images it can affect our kids and their thoughts on what is healthy. I wish people would know that being healthy and even 10 lbs. overweight is better than being stick thin and putting your health at risk? Build some real manniquiens to fit real people and make the clothes to match!!

  23. While the thin waist is an issue, the thing I'm seeing is that that is a waist of a teenager, and even if a youth is fit enough to have that tiny of a waist, what happens when he hits his 20's and takes on a more 'adult male' shape, depression? I personally see it more as a clash against masculinity and an effort to feminize men.

  24. this has absolutely NOTHING to do with your post, and for that I apologize (though it was interesting, and sad)...

    but I simply MUST implore that Weight Watchers develop mobile versions of their site for phones OTHER than Blackberrys and iPhones! Not everyone can afford them and even if I could, say, I have a perfectly wonderful smartphone (Samsung Freeform to be exact) that I would never give up simply for an iPhone. But I REALLY want and, I think, deserve to have as much access to eTools as iPhone/Blackberry owners have! I pay my $40/month; gimme my mobile service! Please! I'm begging here. :)