'Perfect the way they are': Unique mannequins challenge beauty standards

Their bodies are different from the fashion models who strut the catwalks and the mannequins that typically showcase clothing in store windows, and that was exactly the point.

While the average American woman is a dress size 14, according to Women’s Wear Daily — near the beginning of the plus-size range —the average mannequin in U.S. stores is much smaller. 

As part of TODAY’s second “Love Your Selfie, Reclaiming Beauty” week, mannequins were created in the images of five people to represent unique body shapes, and they were revealed live on TODAY Tuesday.

The models for the mannequins were Dawna Callahan, who uses a wheelchair due to incomplete paralysis; Neil Duncan, a former Army paratrooper who lost parts of both of his legs in an explosion in Afghanistan; Ricardo Gil, who has dwarfism; Desiree Hunter, a 6-foot-1½-inch college basketball player; and Beth Ridgeway, who is plus-size.

Four of the five models gathered on the plaza Tuesday as the sheets were lifted off their mannequins, and they seemed pleased with the results.

“Beauty isn’t a size or shape, it’s your heart and your mind,” Ridgeway said as she stood near her mannequin. “I hope it opens people’s eyes.”

Duncan’s mannequin was dressed in shorts, and had two prosthetics, just as he does. “Hopefully they got the abs right,” the athletic Duncan joked as he patted the shirt his mannequin was wearing. “Looks great.”

And Callahan, who raced the Boston Marathon three times and is an adaptive skier, liked the sporty look of her mannequin, who was seated in a wheelchair.

“She’s great,” Callahan said. “I like it.”

Before the reveal, the five models told TODAY they hoped their mannequins would lead to greater acceptance of all kinds of bodies.

“Well you have five different body types,” the 3-foot-9-inch Gil said in a taped segment. “And some of us are missing limbs. Some of us use wheelchairs, some of us are quite short, some of us are quite tall, some of us are larger. We are not just conforming to the stereotypical body type.”

Ridgeway added, “That no matter what size you are, you're still beautiful.”

Hunter said she hopes the mannequins will tell the world that “everybody's perfect the way they are. Just be you, and love yourself for who you are.”

Duncan said he loved the idea of the mannequin project, and called it a great experience.

“It's about image and society,” he said. “It's about all of the times that I've walked through an airport with shorts on and get stares.”

Callahan, who says mannequins in stores don’t look like her, hopes they show people “the strength and the confidence that I bring to people with disabilities.”

Ridgeway was nervous but hoped her mold would be inspiring.

“I just hope she looks like a beautiful, strong, plus-sized woman,” she said with a laugh.

The mannequins were made by Fusion Specialties Inc. in Colorado. The effort was inspired by a European company that made a video of its mannequins modeled on people with disabilities that went viral last year.

Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.