Fat-shaming response to Nike’s plus-size mannequins shows just how far we still have to go

Nike plus-size mannequins on display in London / Image source: allure.com
Nike plus-size mannequins on display in London / Image source: allure.com

Fat-shaming response to Nike's plus-size mannequins shows just how far we still have to go

It’s been almost a month since London’s flagship Nike store unveiled its new mannequins. Displayed alongside more traditional ones, the new mannequins showcase Nike’s plus-size clothing line. Nike, unlike a number of mainstream fitness brands, carries a range of sizes from XS (0-2) to XL (14-16). As the average American woman wears a size 16, it is more necessary than ever to provide all body types with stylish, flexible, high-quality exercise wear.

However, not everyone celebrated the unveiling of the new mannequins as a sign of progress, inclusivity, and acceptance of body diversity. In an editorial published in the Telegraph, a columnist berated Nike’s move as delusional. She went on to shame the mannequin and make dangerous assumptions about health. Because I don’t want to contribute to the many clicks this article has already received, I will not directly name the so-called journalist or include a link. If you want to be disappointed in humanity, all you need to do is google “Nike mannequins Telegraph.”

Should we be surprised that this opinion exists? Not really. It’s just one of many negative voices that athletes who do not conform to traditional sizes and shapes have come to expect when they look for clothing that fits properly, offers enough coverage and support, and looks great. From athletic-wear CEOs casually saying their clothing isn’t for all women to incredible female athletes being criticized for what they wear to compete, the athletic-wear industry is a battleground. With the rise of athleisure, casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and general use, it is more critical than ever that companies embrace body diversity if they want to make profits and set trends.

While so many amazing women of all sizes have shattered the assumptions that there is a specific size and shape for an athlete, the idea that only certain types of people should even participate in exercise is pervasive in our culture. Yes, it is changing — but progress is slow.

As much as we may not want to admit it, many of us are still prisoner to this idea that overweight means unhealthy. Our society still looks at BMI as an easy way to classify and put people into groups. We look at the outward presentation of thinness and the numbers on the scale instead (link to How to Measure Your Progress) of celebrating our own accomplishments every time we lace up our running shoes.

The truth is that we all need to stop making generalizations about health and even berating ourselves for what we look like instead of what we can achieve. There are slender people who pass cardio benchmarks effortlessly. However, there are larger people running marathons and achieving the perfect balance of healthy and unhealthy cholesterol. Being limited by out-of-date biases will only keep us hating ourselves and reinforcing negativity. Change is slow, but if we want to all move towards acceptance and kindness, we need to start with ourselves.

How Relative Fat Mass Index improves on Body Mass Index as a measure of health

Relative fat mass index is supplanting body mass index as an indicator of health.
Relative fat mass index is supplanting body mass index as an indicator of health.

How Relative Fat Mass Index improves on Body Mass Index as a measure of health

Underweight. Normal weight. Overweight. Obese. These are the four categories the Body Mass Index (BMI) has used in its health assessment.

BMI calculation is based on two metrics: height and weight. Use one of many online BMI calculators and you will receive a number that is meant to indicate your general health. Below 18 and you are underweight. You are of normal weight if your BMI is between 18.5 and 25, overweight if it is between 25 and 30. Anybody with a BMI of 30 or more is obese.

However, more reports and studies are finding fault with BMI as a measure of health. Basing a calculation of health on height and weight alone, BMI doesn’t take into account bone, muscle, or fat proportions. This means that a person with exceptional muscle tone and low fat is more likely to have a higher BMI compared to someone with higher fat and lower muscle tone — because muscle can be four times as dense as fat.

If the BMI is defective, why are we still using it? Is there an easy alternative to the BMI? Yes, and it’s the relative fat mass index (RFM).

Studies have determined that your waist circumference provides a more accurate reading of your abdominal fat and risk for disease than BMI. Based on data from 3,456 patients in the United States, the RFM measurements closely matched those taken by a high-tech DXA body scan, widely considered the gold standard for measuring body tissue, bone, muscle and fat.

To get your new RFM measurement, measure your height and waist circumference, then plug the figures into this formula:
MEN: 64 – (20 x height/waist circumference) = RFM
WOMEN: 76 – (20 x height/waist circumference) = RFM
What’s interesting about the RFM is that weight is not even part of the overall equation. Additionally, there are no strict categories for simple classification.

As doctors and organizations like the American Society for Nutrition and the American Diabetes Association promote waist-circumference measurements as a supplement to, or replacement for, the body mass index, we are starting to rethink the relationship between weight and overall health. So, let’s say goodbye to the BMI and embrace the change that comes with new information that will hopefully lead us towards a more holistic view of wellness.