Hard Bodies

There’s a bizarre marketing trend happening amongst small businesses in my neighborhood: recently, a string of shops have stationed life-sized, motorized mannequins outside their storefronts in attempts to draw costumers. On one major boulevard, in less than a four-mile stretch, a half-dozen of these sign-waving dummies have emerged over the last month or so.


While there is some variety in the shade, shape, and wardrobe of these statuesque sales props, they are all female. Dead-eyed, come-hither gazes (traditionally found only in strip clubs) are painted on each fiberglass figure. It’s strange. Stranger still, these lifeless lasses are all chained and bolted to dollies—Hannibal Lector-style—then propped beside lampposts, like street bawds from a Victorian melodrama.


Tacky, truly tacky. As such, I’m curious how effective they are at drumming business.

From an economic standpoint, I’m sure there are benefits to using battery-powered models over ones that require sunscreen and bathroom breaks, but is anyone convinced to purchase auto insurance or a haircut because of a plastic hussy with a sign? And how did this become a trend? Was a secret mannequin memo circulated amongst Los Angeles shop owners? Or did those late to the dummy party merely gaze at their competitors’ gaudy mechanical greeters and say, “Damn, I need to get me one of those!”?


Pediophobia—a fear of dolls, including robots and mannequins—is a common anxiety disorder. Popular schools of psychiatry believe that pediophobia springs from a feeling that dolls may come to life.

I don’t harbor any entrenched fear or mistrust of robots or mannequins, but I did have occasion once to visit a prop house filled with dozens of human-sized, standing dolls. It was creepy. The showroom featured an assortment of male, female, and child dummies, and the presentation was claustrophobic; the mannequins were stacked in rows, shoulder-to-shoulder, like a frozen army. I have to admit that squeezing past the stiffs did cause a shudder or two.


On the other end of the cognitive spectrum is agalmatophilia, a sexual attraction to statues, dolls, or mannequins. Mannequin, an unintentionally creepy, yet mainstream romantic comedy from the late-’80s, revolved around this paraphilia. Bizarrely, the film was successful enough at the box office to warrant a sequel in 1991. This was most likely due to the sexiness of a young Kim Cattrall—who plays the plastic department store fixture of the movie’s namesake—than to some sort of mass audience fetish… but who knows?


While I don’t have a thing for dummies, or bad ’80′s films, I have been known to turn a lusty eye at certain curvy jean mannequins placed outside Latino clothing stores in my hood. I’m not sure what this says about me, as these figures are routinely cut off at the waist. They possess no heads, torsos, or arms with which to hold swiveling mechanical signs, but the sculptors did a fine job shaping the bottoms of these would-be ladies.


I read once that a teenaged Jeffrey Dahmer stole a male mannequin from a department store and kept it hidden in his grandmother’s house, where he was living at the time… but I digress.

On a related creepy note, I remember walking through a female clothing store as a wee lad with my mother and being captivated by an underwear display. The presentation was a row of disembodied mannequin hips. The thought of pulling down the panties on the fake flanks occurred to me (you know… to see what was underneath), but even at that tender age, I knew this behavior would come across as pervy, so I refrained.


As an adult, I probably should have also refrained from stoping my vehicle several times along a busy stretch of road to snap photographs of the mannequin mamas featured in this blog, which begs the question: who’s creepier, the entrepreneur who displays mechanical maidens, or the writer who reports on them?


So, now that I’ve shown you my figures and stumps, will you show me yours? Have you, fair readers, noticed humanoid billboards popping up in your town? Do mannequins and dolls frighten or enchant you? Or are you tempted to grab a sign, strap yourself to a dolly, and see how long you can hold a pose without blinking at passing traffic? Share your “Dummy Details” in the “Comments” section below.

  • hercarelesswhispers

    Small Missouri town. I think I’m safe. For now at least. But truthfully, ever since I saw the movie Chucky, dolls and mannequins tend to freak ne out a but.

  • Sierra Stevens

    Denver CO. Terrified of dolls and clowns, especially clown dolls, but most the two separate. I hate mannequins actually. They just have that cold, blank stare that all dolls have and then the fact that females are meant to look like them… I’ve had nightmares about them for years!!!!

  • Syndrome

    nothing here. Is it strange that I’m mildly disappointed??

  • AnnaNoName

    …so what you’re saying is you’re an ass man.

  • Mira Silvennoinen

    Funny thing, I’ve been very afraid of dolls and clowns for all my life but like all creepy things, they also enchant me in a weird way.
    Well, ’cause of my career I have one torso, couple fake legs and hands + head at my apartment… and I like it that way. Maybe I sort of hope that they really come to life at some point and I have something real to fear, who knows?

  • Samantha Dutchie

    oh yes lol

  • Erin Biskup

    It’s not just an LA thing. Sacramento has birthed a plethora of these things, too. They are SOOOO creepy. I find that the ones that are dressed in sexy clothing tend to offend me, too. Not because I think women shouldn’t dress sexily, but because I think these freakish sales tools shouldn’t. How is a scantily clad plastic person going to affect the changing of my car’s fluids? Why not dress her in the uniform the greasy guy who is changing the oil wears, too, like a real employee?

  • Jill R

    I haven’t seen it yet, but everything starts in California years before it gets to the Midwest. As for dolls, clowns and mannequins… there are some that don’t bother me at all and some that are terrifying. Usually, it is the dusty, old, beat up looking ones in thrift shops and antique stores that are the most disturbing. And the Real Dolls… Ugh…Nightmare City.

  • Leticia Castaneda

    I had the misfortune of stumbling upon my older cousins watching Child’s Play 2 when I was just a meerkat of three or four. I was pretty terrified of dolls when I was younger, (my cousins telling me they came to life at night certainly didn’t help) but when I grew up and started embracing everything I found creepy, they stopped bothering me. I have a co worker that’s a collector of ball-jointed dolls and frequently brings them into the office to perch on the corner of her desk. The majority of our fellow co workers are creeped out by her ‘children’ as she calls them but I find them oddly endearing? I think what it comes down to is I’m one of a handful of people that don’t really fall in either extreme of detesting/adoring dolls. I will however, be wary of Cabbage Patch dolls forever. My mother had a knock off one named Jessica that lived in our bathroom and leered at me in its creepy doll way every time I was brushing my teeth or getting a band aid. There’s a strong cultural fear of dolls in the Mexican community. A good majority believe strongly that dolls can be possessed and become animated. There’s one movie that came on the Spanish channel one Halloween afternoon when I was getting ready to go trick-or-treating that haunted my dreams for a number of years after. It was called ‘Vacaciones de Terror’. Maybe one of those places with the curvy Latin mannequins outside would know where you could track it down. I’m pretty sure you’d appreciate it.

  • Annastasia

    They haven’t made their way to Seattle yet, but I remember seeing some in Fresno when I was passing through earlier this year.

  • Catitia Rowe

    LA is already plastic enough… It was only a matter of time before they REALLY became plastic. Muahahaha! ;)
    (That’s actually a pretty decently cheesy horror movie idea. Lolol)

  • Nightquest

    There’s a few waist-down-only mannequins at our mall that are modeling some jeans and they have perfect big yet perky rumps on them. I have to make a comment about their asses every time I pass by, as ya do.

  • Mia Smith

    I never noticed them until I moved out to California. They’re all over San Jose as well-Super creepy! I figured they were a way to get around having to pay someone to stand outside, but does a creepy life-size doll really make someone want to have anything to do with the business?

  • Kristy Jacobs

    I have only noticed one of these harbingers of wares, chained to the obligatory dolly and signpost, here in Stockton. It’s not animatronic or female, either. A man-doll with a bad wig, hawking Wing Stop. (Note to Wing Stop: he’s chasing customers away …)

  • http://stuffalsothings.wordpress.com/ Morgaine Fey

    I have yet to see these things in Kansas City, and I am sort of disappointed. Although I know that I would probably spend too long staring at them, instead of going about my business. In a small town in upstate NY, there is an antiques shop that had a few of the stalls occupied by mannequins. Not nicely propped for purchase, just two large heaps of figures where horses or cows used to live. It was incredibly disturbing and I would always edge past very carefully… Something about them being in a pile, like discarded bodies, gave me the creeps that an ordinary plastic person just wouldn’t.

  • That Irish Chick

    It’s also happening in Riverside, too. I had to take a second look while I was driving, because I saw the poor woman chained up! I was frightened for the lass!… Until I was aware that she was not a living person. ugh

  • kittiye

    this is really really strange but im a bit jealous. The deep south just pays people to stand with signs rather than put out fake people. I actually own two dummy’s myself *it only gets worse i promise..* i stole one out of a dumpster and the other i bought. the dumpster one is missing her arms but i found her hands which now work as a jewelry display… I have a good reason for owning them… besides wanting giant barbies i can sing tom petty too. *joking!* (not joking i get bored) anyway, i got them for our local museum for display uses, i would give anything for them to actually move. How neat would that be? Yeah looking at male dummys is kinda like that for me its like urgh what do you feel? I think its more of our instinct taking over at that point. If you feel the urge to jack one let me know how their motors work at least :P

  • Dani DeathBringer

    I know here in my area, Little Ceaser’s Pizza hired actual people to stand in the blistering heat and unforgiving frigid cold wave around the 5$ pizza deal signs. I think that stopped now..

  • Zoe Honda Nic Coinnich

    I find their frozen beauty quietly captivating. Rather alluring in a way, we don’t have any in my village unfortunately. What’s wrong grave robber…? I thought you enjoyed girls of the non-breathing creed?

  • Michelle Privett

    They are EVERYWHERE in Tennessee. Its scary and sad really :(

  • HarlequinnHatter

    This is absolutely terrifying. I have had a paranoia of dolls for a long time, mostly baby dolls, as children in general creep me out. Also add ventriloquist dummies to that list. After watching the episode from Doctor Who “Rose”, I also get uneasy walking around department stores now. After seeing this blog, well there went my life dream of stalking you, *Sigh*. Still think you’re awesome, stay creepy.

  • Elizabeth A

    Automata were huge in the 19th century. Used in shops, waxworks, and theatres – particularly in music halls.

    If you find yourself back across the pond at any time you might wanna check out this place – http://automatomania.co.uk

    When I went they had a full sized Edwardian lady (https://www.flickr.com/photos/elizabethunseelie/9658799298/) who blinked and breathed and did a little wave for theatre patrons. They also had a very fetching Devil Head that dispensed cards for magicians, but that was only in for repair so is probably gone now.

  • ViridieanFey

    I’ve always loved dolls and puppets, so these things are fascinating to me. It reminds me of the time I was in one of the bigger malls in upstate NY, and I noticed a Mannequin in a window move. Like actually move. It was then that I realized that this “mannequin” was a very done up lady standing in the store front window. Honestly I find the paid “living mannequins” to be creepier than the automata shown here. But honestly I want to buy one of these and paint her up like a gothic lady, with better clothes and makeup. But then that might be a little too Pygmalion and Galatea for me.

  • Allison M. Pratt

    Haven’t seen a single one in my area. But give it time. I’m sure if the trend sticks we’ll be seeing them in San Luis or Paso Robles.

  • Guest

    The first time I saw a human being, usually a young man spinning a sign that said “Insurance” with an arrow, I was horrified. Who would be that desperate for money? More horrified than the first time I saw a Mexican man selling oranges, and more than the first time I saw the black old lady crack addict in the middle of traffic begging for $ at the 110 Manchester freeway exit. Sad to say I am used to them now, even used one to guide me to the cheapest car insurance to which I made sure the uninterested sales rep knew, said sign spinner brought me in hoping that would mean a bonus for the kid. So i’m not bothered by the plastic dolls, albeit one might say they are taking jobs away from Americans, except when I realize my ass would never look as good in the jeans the plastic bum is duping me into buying. What I do love are the the larger than life, inflatable air blown “dancers” that blow left to right and all over the place. When I see one, I don’t mind a red light because I will admit, their movements both amuse and hypnotize me. Is there a phobia or illia about that one? Or maybe I just like to see a man blown larger than life, that is always happy to see me, that is flexible, and gives me a bow every now and again, when he is blown just right. ;-)

  • Miranda Caldwell

    Thankfuly none of these have been put up in my town, becuase I find them truly creepy

  • Stephanie M.

    It’s funny that you bring this up Terrance. Like Erin Biskup said, Sacrament (Citrus Heights/Antelope area) also has given into this trend. It’s quite strange and borderline creepy. One of those thing that makes you take a double look to see if it was an actual person.

  • Stephanie M.

    Sacramento* rather.

  • Kellie Stewart

    I hope that doesn’t catch on here. I don’t mind most mannequins, but I do hate the ones that have large eyes and large wide open mouths. It feels like they are mocking somehow. I think taking pictures of them is a completely normal thing to do. Maybe of enough people do this, it will cause a traffic problem and they will be removed. If I saw one outside of a store, it would definitely dissuade me from doing business there due to the pure silliness of it.

  • Ashley

    When I was little I used to put all of my dolls in bed with me even though it was super uncomfortable because I was terrified if I left one out, she would get jealous and kill me in my sleep. As far as seeing mannequins? I do remember seeing a few around Kentucky, but none in Utah so far. (Though Utah is considered to be 3 years behind on almost every trend)

  • Kayla Alexandria

    Ive never been scared of dolls (creepy or not), but if I came across one of these, it’ll probably hit the chill factor.

  • Christina Heaton

    God, I hope these don’t turn up here. We’re not exactly in a big city but we are a college town so it is generally pretty busy…ugh. I think I’ve been fortunate enough to have never seen Child’s Play, even though my fiance makes fun of me for it. Killer Clowns from Outer Space didn’t sit well with me, though….

  • Heather Perl

    I too live in the Los Angeles area, and if that last shot of the blond car wash mannequin is the one I think it is, on Sherman Way near the Van Nuys intersection, then I drive by that hussy twice a week, right after my bi-weekly plasma donation. I remember when it first showed up, and I found it extremely disturbing. It’s not that I’m afraid of mannequins (though I will admit to a fear of dolls), just that I didn’t really see the point. It’s a busy car wash near a busy intersection in a dirty city. What extra advertising can a mannequin located five feet from the entrance possibly provide? However, as time passed, I became used to its presence, and then a new disturbing trend began. Every time I drove past the minor abomination, something had changed. At first it was just the obvious pranks of some passerby pulling the pants down. Then the shirts started to show up on it, then new shoes and finally new hair colors and styles. Now each time I drive by, I just find myself hoping that someone is changing out the clothes and hair, and not that these troubled car wash owners have a basement somewhere full of the large varieties of vaguely creepy mannequins.

  • Brigitte Sharai

    -grumblegrumble- Maybe THIS is why all the mannequins online are so expensive now!

  • Candace Audrey

    These things are creepy and I have found that fortune has smiled upon my city (if you can call anything in utah a city) because I have never seen nor heard of a mannequin take over happening anytime in the near future

  • tonberrypie

    We have a guy dressed as The Statue of Liberty; he spins a sign…sort of. It’s pretty awkward, but that’s why I like it.

  • Kayla Alexandria

    Its starting in Rhode Island! I found one at a corner store near my house. Haha I thought it was a stripper at first Cx

  • Danielle Matthews

    Either this hasn’t cropped up in my area yet, or I’ve been truly oblivious it. Either way- is this to slowly remove the people who would wave a sign?

  • Cordelia Cross

    Clearly the owners of the mannequins. Although they are dawn brilliant. Think of all the people posting about these creepy as dolls and gaining attention and business for those stores. But at the same time this is a bit too much like the living plastic killer mannequins from Doctor Who for my tastes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adriandewitt Adrian Alaina

    This is the best, haha.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adriandewitt Adrian Alaina

    Okay… Mannequins officially freak me out.

  • devotchka

    There are tons of these in downtown san jose, CA. I thought this was just something weird in our area. Not sure how I feel about this. The first one I saw, it was out of the cor er of my eye as we drove past, and I remember being creeped out at the inhuman movement. Then I realized it was a mannequin. :l still find them odd.

  • purple panda

    There are some pretty cool, cyber mannequins at cyber dog in Camden, London.

  • purple panda
  • purple panda
  • purple panda

    Aha! The first episode of the new Doctor Who!

  • Sarah Buxton

    I’m in Austin, Tx, a city known for being weird. How do we not have these yet? It’s a good idea because you don’t have to pay someone to hold the signs, and because the are still human shaped, people driving will still look them over more than a sign on a post, especially since they are near the street. I not a fan of dolls, but this is pretty neat! Of course it would be more amusing if they were clowns… Or better yet, now that mannequins are a known thing in the area, get a man to dress up as a clown, pretend to be a mannequin and when people walk by, suddenly move . Muahaha!