H&M’s Computerized Model Fake-Out: A Lesson In Body Image

I’ve long stopped looking to fashion magazines, catalogues and online fashion sites for cues on what I should be wearing and especially how I should look in it; nothing about the clothing—the prices, the styles and especially the way models look in anything worn above the ankle—appeals; it simply isn’t realistic for my purse or my curves. Chalk it up to me being grown and knowing what works for me—no matter what Anna Wintour and her army of air-eating, irrepressibly-thin, I-spend-my-entire-paycheck-on-crap-I-can’t-afford minions may think.

But I can’t exactly say the same thing for 12-year-old. It took me doggone 30 years to get comfortable in this body. My baby’s got a long way to go. This weekend, though, Mari got a sound schooling on just how the media preys on the female psyche when she participated in “My Power, Girl Power,” an amazing learning experience in which the non-profit organization The Mindful Community Institute gathered up girls between 10 and 14 and took them on an exploration of the media. During the two-day conference, Atlanta-area TV and radio personalities, journalists and artists helped the girls define media and its role in society, discussed the images of girls and women in the media and led them through workshops that helped them create media—photography, music, art and writings—of their own.

One of the sessions that really resonated with my daughter was one led by my girl Joyce E. Davis, a journalist and editor of Spelman College’s digital publications. In it, she talked about the way magazines alter photos to erase celebrity “flaws,” creating unrealistic, largely unattainable and grossly sexist ideals that work overtime to make women and girls feel pretty crappy about themselves. After the session, Mari and I had an in-depth convo in the car about plastic surgery, fat vs. phat—even porn magazines and their influence on mainstream ones (The cutest thing ever? This super innocent question: “Mommy? Are there really magazines with naked women in them?”). And though I’ve long made a point of making sure my girls understand the havoc media images of women in general and black women in particular can wreak havoc on our self-esteem, it really was quite helpful to have other smart, thoughtful women help frame the discussion.

Anyway, with all that she digested over the weekend, Mari was rightfully disgusted when I showed her this story on Clutch, “H&M Puts Real Model Heads On Fake Bodies.” In it, writer Britni Danielle writes about how the clothing store created computer-generated bodies with interchangeable heads and skin color as models for its catalogue—what Britni described as “a great new way to promote body shame and unrealistic expectations for how real women look.”


H&M copped to using mannequins and a computer program to create the “human appearance,” which it said enabled the company to “show off the clothes.” Never mind that a kid like my Mari, a pre-teen who is slowly becoming more fashion conscious and searching for her place in this thin-obsessed, hyper-sexualized world of conflicting body image messages, might actually stumble on the H&M site and quickly determine by the impossibly “perfect” models with flat abs, miniature hips and five-year-old-sized chicken legs that she sucks because she’s fat. Trust me: Even at 12, she’s thinking this.

Way to go, H&M. *insert Denene slow-clapping here* I showed Mari the Clutch story; she was all incredulous. “Are you kidding me?” she asked, shaking her head in disgust. Thank God for programs like The Mindful Community Institute  and brilliant women like Joyce for helping little girls see more clearly—to understand that they don’t have to fall for the okey-doke.


1. And Now, the Part Where My Daughter Starts Hating Her Bootylicious Butt
2. My Baby Is Getting Grown
3. Bones, Baggage, Black Girl Curves and Mama Bears

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Nichele Hoskins

    Thanks for this, Denene. This reminds me of the movie Looker from back in the 80s, a Michael Crichton effort. The gist was that models were seeking strangely precise cosmetic surgery to match the stats that a computer and consumer optical scans said made them more desirable, salable. Ultimately the computer company started killing off these surgically enhanced “perfect” women. The film didn’t hang together well at all, but I like it for what it said about computers and marketing and beauty. Who knew Looker would look less like science fiction in a few decades?

  2. I am so encouraged to hear about the conversation that you and Mari had about women and body image based on the empowering sessions the Mindful Community so wonderfully presented last weekend. I was honored to be a part of the discussions and so encouraged by the thoughtful comments and observations that the girls made.

    Kudos to parents who make sure their children are part of programs like this and to the kids who oftentimes have to overcome embarrassment to express themselves and take stances in these forums. It is so important for parents to maintain the important open relationship with their children, so that their kids can feel comfortable coming to them with anything.

    I barely have any words for H&M. Especially after their sorry-behind excuse for using these fantasy body models to “show off the clothes.” How short-sighted. And what a poorly-constructed response. As a communications professional, I don’t think they put much thought into damage control.

    Honestly, I loved the store when I first visited it in London in 1998, but have only stepped through their doors a few times since they’ve been in the states. And now I have a reason not to darken their doorway anymore. With so many other shopping options, and (as a parent and progressive creative) a kazillion more priorities than fashion, I’m done with H&M….and I. Mean. That.

  3. I have a 7 year old who is the size of an average 11 year old *if not older* and teach her about healthy habits in eating and excercising, but also to LOVE herself. This is so sad, I hope my girls take their que from momma and never 2nd guess their shape/body structure/hair. We are all made in God’s image, unique and wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  4. The Mindful Community Institute’s program sounds incredible! I had to go check out the site. What a great idea.

  5. @Brenda It is a good idea. I will to .

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