A new study from Florida State University, published in the journal Communication Monographs, concludes that women are paying more attention to models who are more average, and even plus-size compared to models who are skinny. The ladies in the study also remembered a lot more details about the fashion models who weren’t incredibly thin, they also were more likely not to compare themselves to the more average looking model.
The study involved 49 college-age women, all of whom considered themselves “average” weight but aspired to be thinner. They were all shown different images of fashion models—taken from the Macy’s and Target websites—who’d been classified by the researchers as thin, average, or plus-size. (The plus-size models all appeared to be overweight, but none were morbidly obese.)
They were asked to separate the models based on how attractive they found her, her body type, and how much they would compare themselves to the model. The true intent of the photos was to find out about their levels of body satisfaction. To mask this, they were asked about their intention to buy the clothing depicted in the model’s photos. The women were then shown an unrelated short video, and afterward were asked some questions to evaluate their memory about the models.
The responses given revealed different opinions of all the different models. Women compared themselves more often when viewing a thinner model, they also paid less attention and didn’t remember too many details about them. However, when viewing average and plus-size women, the ladies paid more attention, could recall more, made fewer self-comparisons, and reported they felt about themselves, regardless and having previous stated they wanted to lose weight.
“We found overwhelmingly that there is a clear psychological advantage of depicting the non-ideal body type in media campaigns,” the authors wrote in their paper. “These findings suggest that incorporating more realistically sized fashion models in the media might have its benefits in terms of improved health outcomes,” they add, including less rejection and more body satisfaction for a female audience.
The study’s sample size was small and only included college-age women who wanted to lose weight, and the authors say their findings should be replicated with people of different genders, ages, ethnicities, and body images. But lead researcher Russell Clayton, PhD, director of the Cognition and Emotion Lab at FSU, tells Health that the findings “tell an interesting story about the current trend of depicting plus-size models in media campaigns.”
Clayton also says the study results can be eye-opening for women who do want to be thinner, in terms of how viewing images of realistic versus “ideal” body types might affect their self-confidence and personal body satisfaction. In conclusion, pay attention to how images of other women truly make you feel, not just whether they are your idea of a perfect body.