Someone should check in on the TravisMathew mannequin at the Mall of America. Is he OK?
I recently spotted him — let's call him Steve — in the storefront of the high-end performance apparel store. His midsection was bloated, but not in a run-of-the-mill dad bod sort of way. It appeared as though Steve had either shoved a watermelon up his T-shirt, was suffering from an unknown liver condition or was with child.
"It caught me off guard," agreed Tyler Igou of Apple Valley, who was with his wife pushing their 1-year-old in a stroller at the mall.
If the intent was to create a more plausible likeness of the average American male body, Igou suggested the mannequin manufacturer could have distributed Steve's weight more evenly and given him a huskier build. "Maybe they tried, and it fell flat," he offered.
But that might be a generous assumption. To me, this attempt didn't seem in the vein of the body positivity trend that has led to curvy (and usually female) mannequins and models I've seen at retailers like Target and Athleta.
Those decisions to broaden representation are appreciated by consumers like me because they show us how clothes fit on real bodies. And if the models are donning sports bras and bike shorts, it brings home the notion that women of any physical shape can work out and look great.
In contrast, Steve is bestowed no such dignity. Beside him, two trim mannequins exude the elevated, California-inspired aesthetic that the lifestyle brand is known for, including crisp ballcaps, $90 polos layered with lightweight hoodies, and sockless sneakers. You could see these mannequins hanging out together in Malibu with their kombuchas and chocolate labs.
But Steve wears a schlubby T-shirt that reads: "Someone give me a beer." A phrase on the back of the shirt apparently is the hangover talking: "Never drinking again."
Why do the skinny models get to look cool, and the fat model is the butt of a joke?
I found online references to similarly shaped mannequins in TravisMathew stores going back to 2018. In one photo posted to Reddit four years ago, the dad-a-quin sported a sunhat with strings that were attached to — I kid you not — a Koozie holding a can. It was like the Coors Light version of a Saint Bernard with a barrel around his neck. The dad-a-quin also wore a T-shirt that read, "Dad Bod: Make Our Body Great Again."
TravisMathew, which started as a golf apparel company in 2007 and added its MOA location just last fall, had the chance to truly embrace dad bods, and all body types, with a cutting-edge campaign presenting heftier, recognizable physiques.
The average American man's waistline is more than 40 inches; at 5 feet 9 he weighs about 200 pounds. Put a mannequin this size in a quarter-zip and joggers, and it might attract a new segment of male shoppers who feel welcome and represented. (I tried finding someone from the company who was authorized to speak to me for this column, but my emails to TravisMathew's media account bounced back, and no one returned my tweet.)
Most people are probably confused or amused, rather than annoyed, by the sight of Steve. And that's my point. If the three mannequins in the window were women — two ultrathin athletic types bedecked in crop tops and leggings, and one plus-size mannequin with a T-shirt implying she had a drinking problem — the joke would fall flat. But because Steve's a dude, we laugh along.
While it's true that women face more pressure to attain unrealistic beauty standards, men aren't immune, either. And the desire to be lean and muscular starts early.
As a parent, I can tell you that young boys are lifting up their shirts to compare their tummies to the six-pack abs they see on their Marvel heroes. Disordered eating among males is on the rise, with about 10 million struggling with it at some point in their lives. Yet they're less likely than women to be diagnosed or seek treatment, perhaps because of a cultural bias that presumes any shame about what people see in the mirror is solely a female condition.
So please look out for our friend Steve. Maybe he's a busy guy with a full-time job who wrestles with his kids, cooks dinner on weeknights and volunteers in his community. I do know one thing: He's not the dummy that he's being dressed up to be.