Jessica Russo says she never loved her body.
"I always remember growing up as a kid, I was the Tom Boy. I was into sports and never really felt that great about my body," she said.
She remembers looking at fashion magazines and cutting out the pictures.
"You see the magazine covers with the best and worst bodies. And I remember I would make this collage on my door. And cut out all the best and the worst, and it was always my goal to look like the "best" side" and not the "worst" side.
Her body image got progressively worse, from high school to college.
"Coming into college, is when I started acting out in bulimia," she said.
Jessica says the media had a role in her body image issues, and it even happened at retail stores when she saw mannequins with cute clothes on.
"I would think, ‘Oh, skinny jeans, I want those skinny jeans.' And I might try them on, and I have this athletic build so they might not even pull over my thighs," she recalled.
Jessica says that always negatively affected her.
"I would think, ‘what's wrong with me that I can't wear these jeans that are on this mannequin,that everyone else is wearing. There must be something wrong with me.' "
So when she saw a picture posted by one of her former USF professors, she almost screamed. Dr. Dae Sheridan, a licensed mental health counselor, professor at USF and a mother of two, was shopping for back to school clothes at JC Penney at Citrus Park Mall.
"I saw this mannequin, and it was like two poles with a pair of jeans on it. Very emaciated, not human like in any way, shape or form," Dae said.
She kneeled and took a picture, showing that the legs were smaller than her own arm.
"I feel the problem with the legs is children, and teenagers, men and women, we adopt these images. We see this thin ideal in our country become so pervasive," Sheridan said.
Dr. Dae specializes in body image issues and has counseled young girls and women with eating disorders. But she was also angry, as a parent.
"What I'm not okay with is retailers trying to sell my child on the fact that to be healthy and popular and to be good enough, that your legs have to fit in those jeans," she says.
She started a petition on change.org asking JCPenney to reconsider the size and proportion of their mannequins.
We contacted JCPenney for a comment, but have not heard back. But industry experts say mannequins are not supposed to be realistic of the human body. Many call them artistic, and say they are a creative way to showcase clothes.
Dr. Dae says if we continue to ignore these images, it becomes part of our culture.
"We're starting to internalize that, that this is what we're supposed to look like, this thin ideal, this irrational body image that is centered on this thin, thin, thin, thin," she said.
Jessica Russo has worked on putting the bulimia behind her. But says she does have to constantly work on a new body image.
"I have to keep the new perspective that I have. That the perfect and ideal images I see, is not what I have to be," she said.
She says retailers should consider a display of all different body types.
"What's wrong with having a more realistic mannequin or maybe a display of different body types. Because there are plenty of girls who do look, kind of like that mannequin, that thin," she says.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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