It took only a second for the topic of mannequins to pique my interest. I happened to be browsing at an Athleta store when I noticed the waist-down plastic legs in the window sporting colorful leggings. At first, I thought nothing of the typical figurines. But when I paused and looked again, I noticed that the mannequins weren’t composed of the slender limbs one usually sees in stores, but rather of muscular thighs and toned calves. My first reaction was one of elation—there was finally a window display with shapely thighs! But then, following my moment of internal celebration, a research question popped into my head: Do differently-shaped mannequins influence how women feel about their bodies?
Upon looking into the matter, I discovered that there weren’t many articles relating to this topic. After searching several combinations of terms that included the word “mannequin,” I found only one article that pertained to mannequins in the fashion industry. The source turned out to be a good find, however, for it explained the history of mannequins and how their purpose evolved from being used to fit clothes to displaying the latest trends in store windows. But now I was stuck with an exhausted list of search terms and only one article on which to base my findings. My research had left me with yet another problem: How do I go about researching mannequins? More importantly, how do I go about researching any uncommon topic? With some time and patience, I was able to come up with these three strategies to locate new sources.
Reaching Out to Professors
Taking the time to chat with my Gender & Sexuality Studies professor led me to the topic Barbie dolls. She brought my attention to how this popular toy is known to have a negative impact on young girls’ satisfaction with their bodies. For this reason, she suggested that the way a small inanimate doll can influence a little girl may be similar to how a large mannequin can impact an older woman. As a result, in a matter of minutes, I had another search term—“Barbie”—and an ensuing number of articles to work with.
In addition to gaining new insights from my professor, gathering more sources allowed me to discover the important concepts in each text. At the top of most articles, there’s a list of keywords that the author has identified as being relevant to their work. A look at the top pages of my articles on Barbie allowed me to compile a whole new list of search terms, including “sociocultural body ideals,” “symbolic interactionism,” and “microaggression.”
Looking Through References
Lastly, I discovered that a gold mine of related sources could be found in my current sources’ bibliographies. We all know that at the end of each article is a list of texts that the authors cited in their work. Those texts provided me with even more key terms and new ways of thinking about how to answer my research question. With so many new options, I had to filter my findings by keeping in mind my end objective. While many fascinating things could be said about adolescence and body image, my focus was on mannequins and how they could potentially impact grown women’s thoughts and feelings about their bodies. As a result, I looked through the sources that didn’t directly relate to this point and set them aside.
By consulting with my professor and looking at other researchers’ sources, I was able to learn a lot more about mannequins and how they may influence women’s views of their bodies. Not only do slender mannequins continue to enforce society’s thin-ideal, but they may also lead to a decrease in women’s self-esteem. Luckily, these strategies can also work for any uncommon (or common) topic. Putting in the extra time to discuss your project with others and to analyze a few bibliographies can lead you to several relevant texts that you may not have found otherwise. With a new and expanded compilation of sources, answering your research question becomes all the more manageable.
–Taylor Griffith, Social Sciences Correspondent