Representations of the human form

One may ask what it is about the human form that is so intriguing. Whether in sculpture, relief , robotic forms or display mannequins and mannequin forms, the human body is a constant source of intrigue and wonderment.

Mannequins: Fashion, Ideal Beauty & Politics By Mari Davis

Fashion and mannequins have always been linked with each other. From the store windows to the catwalk, mannequins are used to show the latest in fashion. Mannequin manufacturers has one common goal - make mannequins that will be used to display clothes. Of course, there are other uses for mannequins such as the movies, either as a prop or to be an actor's double. Mannequins are also used widely in crash testing of cars. They are also used in teaching human anatomy and medical sciences from saving lives (CPR) to veterinary medicine.

Among its uses, the fashion mannequin is the one which has captured the imagination of a lot of people. Mannequins reflects the "ideal beauty" of the time it was designed and manufactured. According to Claudia Kidwell, head of the costume division at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American history, "The idea of having idealized three-dimensional forms of the human body from different time periods is fascinating." "The way different generations learn to align the skeleton and distribute weight has to do with the culture a person grows up in and the posture of their time," she says. (From: Mannequins: Fantasy Figures of High Fashion, Smithsonian Magazine)

If you look at mannequins from different time periods, you will see that each era has its own characteristics - from facial expression, to body language (pose) and of course, the measurements. Modern mannequins look like life-sized Barbie dolls - tall and slim, with great body tone, looks bored and usually a size 4. Compare them with mannequins fifty years ago, and you will find that mannequins manufactured after World War II were shorter, and had a happy facial expression. Mannequins were shorter because there were not enough raw materials, and they had "happy" expressions because they were "welcoming" heroes.

In short, mannequins also reflect the political and socio-economic situation of the times. So, next time, when you look through the glass of a store window, remember that the mannequin inside reflects humanity more than what is obvious.

An industrial robot, with neither face, nor legs, and only arms and hands that move and manipulate objects, is the direct outcome of functional design. It does not look human in any way, and although it has hands, or hand-like extremities, it would rate low on the scale of familiarity on a graph, and would therefore be unlikely to arose affection in a human. On the other hand, with toys the shape is more important than function, and so a toy robot will have a face and limbs because it is designed to arose affection in children.

There is a school of thought that robots should be made to look like, and function entirely like human beings; a good example of this principle is the latest prostheses which resemble human limbs as closely as possible. The thesis is that the closer a robot resembles a human being, the more affection or feeling of familiarity it can engender. Contrary to what one might expect, however, the imitation of human exteriors may lead to unexpected effects and unpleasant surprises.

Taken from Robots: Fact, Fiction and Prediction by Jasia Reichardt, Thames & Hudson, 1978, page 26.