Skip to main content
Cornell University mobile logo
3 mannequins in a storefront window

"RESIST, REJECT, REBEL": Mannequins as Social Protest

by Jacob Blizard

by Jacob Blizard

We’ve all seen the quintessential fiberglass sculptures towering 5+ feet tall at every apparel store aisle. Whether capturing the latest fashion trends or wearing clothes that tightly frame the outline of the body, mannequins possess a unique yet oddly universal quality that resonates with the larger structures of materialism, gender expression, and social complacence. 

Mannequins are dressed in the very fabrics and structures that constitute the confines of societal worth, rooted in class, gender, race, etc. Mainstream fast fashion idealizes the white, slim, and overly-gendered representations of identity. Furthermore, often paired with high-end clothing, mannequins reflect the inequitable power dynamics associated with the industry. 

See this image below as an example: 



3 mannequins in a storefront window

All white mannequins line this particular NYC boutique. Many wouldn’t think twice about the construction of the model, and for obvious reasons. When “the default” monotonous white model finds its way to every storefront, Paula DiPerna ponders, we must consider who these places attract. It’s simply not enough to email the president and trivialize the importance of inclusivity and justice (working inside the system). Instead, I am fascinated by how artists and activists deconstruct these gendered, class-based, racialized, and bodily hierarchies through the mannequin medium (working outside the system).


Plus-size window mannequin 'fat-shamed and laughed at'

Plus size fuchsia mannequin in a wedding dress

This size 32 model above represents more than inclusivity for Debbie Shelley. When a certain passerby told her, “[I] don't ever get that fat love, because no one's ever going to want to marry you are they?” she came to understand the immense power that even an inanimate object possesses in terms of mainstream acceptability. The “Are You Laughing or Are You Fat-Shaming” sign is her way of calling out the public and reclaiming space for plus-sized representation in the fashion industry.




‘Camp Pose’ Exhibit

mannequins in camp clothing

Campness is intimately rooted in themes of theatricality, exaggeration, and irony to counteract mainstream displays of wealth and whiteness. The concept of  “camp” is quite literally a culture changer, entwined with ballroom culture and non-mainstream fashion led by BIPOC and queer people. This MET exhibit pictured above parodies high-class material expression through the dresses' handmade elements and blurs the mannequins' gendered features by imitating the “camp pose” often portrayed by men historically referred to as “drama kings.”




The World - And Body - is Your Canvas

mannequin art

This last image depicts two mannequins: one sealed in wrapping paper with the names of victims of police gun violence and the other covered in graffiti art. As a one-day pop-up event in Sacramento, the mannequin sculptures effectively tethered the human experience to the physical appearance of the body while debunking the glamor and poise often associated with mannequins. 





I have been exposed to many community perspectives and experiences during the High Road: a poet laureate, city chairpeople, union organizers, and countless movement builders. They all have unique mediums that drive their work. Working on an urban farm, I’ve thought a lot about how food can be used as a medium to represent not only health disparities (especially in East Buffalo) but also the possibilities of sustainable community building and collective activism and identities. I hope that the different styles of mannequin art presented inspire others to use other mediums to flout mainstream representations of identity and traverse the status quo. Our actions on the High Road are immensely impactful and necessary for community building in Buffalo. Use your talents and mediums, whether through law, healthcare, artwork, etc., to spark social and political activism in unique ways.






Jacob Blizard