I seem to write about body image at least once a week on this blog, and those of you who are loyal readers know that I am quite excited about the fact that we’re beginning to see more curvy models in fashion magazines. Unfortunately, the presence of so-called plus-size models in ads can actually lower a woman’s self-esteem, according to a recent study by researchers at Arizona State University, the University of Cologne in Germany and Erasmus University in the Netherlands.
“We believe it is unlikely that many brands will gain market share by using heavy models in their ads,” said Naomi Mandel, marketing associate professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU. “We found that overweight consumers demonstrated lower self-esteem – and therefore probably less enthusiasm about buying products – after exposure to any size models in ads (versus ads with no models). Also, normal-weight consumers experienced lower self-esteem after exposure to moderately heavy models, such as those in Dove soap’s ‘Real Women’ campaign, than after exposure to moderately thin models.”
Mandel and her fellow researchers conducted the study based on the popular notion that looking at extremely thin models can negatively affect consumers’ self-esteem and possibly even lead to eating disorders in young girls. Although they did confirm that exposure to extremely thin models can be damaging to most women’s self-esteem, they also found that so can exposure to heavier models.
The study found that thinner women with a low BMI tended to experience a boost in self-esteem when they viewed all models because they identified positively with the thinner models and saw themselves as different from the heavier models. Heavier women experienced a drop in self-esteem when looking at all models because they saw themselves as different from the thinner, idealized ones and similar to the overweight models.
Meanwhile, women with a normal BMI had the most shifts in self-esteem, depending on what types of images they saw and could therefore be the most influenced by pictures in ads. For example, if they viewed a moderately thin model, they felt similar and good; if they saw a moderately heavy model, they worried they were similar and overweight.
What about you? Which type of model would you like to see featured in ads? Vote and add your comment below.