Back before the club closed its doors forevermore, I sat on the bleacher-like steps of the Opium Garden in South Beach, Miami, and watched a breakdancer in a strategically torn t-shirt. Her athletic body gyrated; she pop-locked, downrocked and piked and then she sat down next to me, another girl in baggy pants, sneakers and a hat. We watched the other action on the dance floor for a few minutes as the jacking house music kept thumping. Nearly all of the women pouting to the beat shimmied in miniskirts and break-neck stilettos, with breasts that should have been bouncing in their band-aid tops but instead remained steadily bolted in place. The b-girl leaned over and shouted over the thumps: “Welcome to Miami, where you’re not allowed to live unless you’ve got fake tits and dick-suckin’ lips.” Of course, that was a vulgar way to put it, the stereotype of body-conscious South Beach, but there it was.
This year, the closed club a victim of noise complaints and rising rents, I ambled down Lincoln Mall Road in search of a gelato. Before I got to the gelato, there "it" was again.
Of course, it’s possible or even probable that these mannequins graced Miami’s shop windows before this year and I just didn’t notice them; I’m not sure. Anyway, I don’t know what to think about these real fake ladies. Suddenly walking down Lincoln Mall Road bore a surreal similarity to traversing yesteryear's gauntlet of sex workers in the storefronts of Amsterdam's Red Light district.
Those Miami mannequins displays say more about the normalization of cosmetic surgery in our culture than most anything I can write about it, I think. For women in places like South Beach and Los Angeles, the question of whether or not to go under the knife is moot; the question is no longer “Should I get surgery?” That we should get surgery is taken for granted. Instead, the fundamental question has become “Where should I get which surgery?”
The mannequins also beg some questions about the aspirational nature of window shopping. It could be argued that the mannequins represent the body type of the average South Beach resident more than the traditional clothes-hanger-skinny mannequin, and thus give a more realistic idea of how the merchandise would fit potential customers. It could also be argued that heroine-chic physiques of traditional mannequins modeled equally unnatural body types, or that they enforced a standard of homogeneity for the female form so the busty new gals provide some welcome variety, at least. While that’s possible, I also wonder how much these mannequins now commodify the body as the items for sale versus the clothing as the items for sale. When we’re window shopping, are we supposed to covet the merchandise or the bodies on display?
There seems to be a sort of chicken and egg element to the issue as well. Are mannequins like these a result of the body commodification and normalization of cosmetic surgery in our culture, or a cause of them?