H&M continues getting heat for the cyborg models on its website, this after a representative told the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet the company uses virtual bodies to best display the clothes -- increasingly standard practise in the fashion industry.
"We take pictures of the clothes on a doll that stands in the shop, and then create the human appearance with a program on [a]computer," Hacan Andersson said.
The result is unsettling: Every model has the exact same gaunt arms, doll-like hands, jutting hips and perhaps most jarringly, the same belly button, repeated over and over again. Heads of real-life models have been popped atop the computer-generated bodies, which are coloured the same pigment as the faces.
H&M defended the technique, explaining that clothes look better on virtual mannequins than on humans: "This is not about ideals or to show off a perfect body, we do this to demonstrate an item of clothing," Mr. Andersson told Aftonbladet.
"This technique can be found in use throughout the industry," Nicole Christie, spokeswoman for the chain's U.S. operations, told ABC News.
What about all the body-conscious girls poring over H&M's bikini babes? Ms. Christie offered a somewhat conciliatory statement to ABC: "It is regrettable if we have led anyone to believe that the virtual mannequins should be real bodies. This is incorrect and has never been our intention."
Some critics said the cyborgs are no worse than real but Photoshopped bodies -- remember Filippa Hamilton, the model drastically pinched into a "stick insect" by Ralph Lauren, her head bigger than her hips?
Others argued that completely virtual bodies are more honest than real bodies manipulated. As Susie Orbach told the Guardian, "Perhaps this will expose the constructed nature of the images more graphically than all the critiques of Photoshopping. Perhaps it will be easier to say: this body does not exist, it is a fiction."
(In that case, maybe H&M should consider topping the virtual bodies with obviously virtual heads to end the confusion that their replicants are real women.)
Others aren't convinced, suggesting both the cyborgs and Photoshopped models set unrealistic and unhealthy ideals for women. Academics have been pushing for transparent labeling akin to cigarette warnings, as are two parents agitating for "The Self-Esteem Act," a bill that would require disclaimers be attached to ads and editorials where models have been significantly Photoshopped or airbrushed.
"To all involved, we say, keep doing what you're doing if you must -- just tell us you've done it. Maybe then we will realize that the women in those ads and spreads are about as real as Avatar, and thus, we'll see it as escapism and not as realism to which we don't measure up," Seth Matlins told the Huffington Post.
But is it enough to divulge the ruse, as H&M has? Or does the industry have an obligation to model clothes on women who more closely resemble their clients, let alone humans?