Plump models make women feel worse

Waifish models have long been accused of setting unrealistic beauty standards and lowering self-esteem. Some companies, such as Dove, have switched to using more realistic-looking models in conjunction with empowering messages. However, an important new study in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that, contrary to many assumptions, looking at moderately heavy models actually lowers most women’s self-esteem, while looking at moderately thin models raises it.

“We demonstrated that exposure to thin models does not necessarily have a negative impact on one’s self-esteem,” explain Dirk Smeesters (Tilburg University) and Naomi Mandel (Arizona State University). “On the contrary, exposure to moderately thin (but not extremely thin) models has a positive impact on one’s self-esteem.”

See also: Fleshy thighs on parade

In the first part of the study, participants selected four representative models in each category – extremely thin, moderately thin, moderately heavy, and extremely heavy – from a larger sample of images. These images were then shown to randomly chosen women in conjunction with a “lexical decision trial” – that is, the participants were timed as they responded to words related to thinness and heaviness.

Looking at moderately thin or extremely heavy models led to an increase in self-perception of thinness and an increase in self-esteem. By contrast, seeing extremely thin or moderately heavy models focused women’s thoughts on how heavy they felt.

These results shed light on why magazines featuring only plus-sized models don’t have the success of the magazine that feature slim models: “…campaigns featuring moderately heavy ‘real women’ might not be as inspirational (or effective) as expected,” conclude Smeesters and Mandel.

From University of Chicago Press Journals

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.

16 thoughts on “Plump models make women feel worse”

  1. There are a countless number of TV programmes and shows that have featured some episode having to do with women feeling bad about their bodies, precisely that they are not skinny enough. Society blames this on the media but what about the individual who is not happy with the way they look? it is not a media problem that can be fixed by showing pictures of “real women”. Every woman is a real woman. Society has now taken it upon itself to criticize women who are genetically petite, sort of like a vendetta on behalf of their “full-figured” counterparts. It is deemed normal for anyone to walk up to a young lady and say “you are so skinny”. However it is wrong to tell someone that they look fat. Now, why is that? what about the girl who is just skinny, how is she supposed to feel when she is told that she is unattractive and needs to put on some weight? Then she resorts to unhealthy eating, without throwing up mind you; basically reverse anorexia? Society is hyprocritical. People need to start accepting that there is no such thing as perfection. Human beings cannot be perfect, there is always something out of line somewhere and that is the beauty of life. Britney Spears isn’t perfect, she makes mistakes and hey, that’s the way things go sometimes. Beyonce isn’t perfect, Tom Cruise isn’t perfect, Brad Pit, Angelina Jolie and the list goes on and on. They are just real, imperfect, and incredibly talented individuals who are basically trying to make a living by entertaining the rest of us. What do we do? we punish ourselves by striving to be like them. Then we punish them when like human beings do sometimes – they make mistakes. Yes, they are attractive but being attractive does not guarantee happiness. There is nothing wrong with emulating their works, such as Angelina Jolie’s work with the United Nations. However trying to look like her is quite something else. People should love themselves and love their differences. Yes, the media may contribute to the perceptions that people have of themselves and anorexia is real. But the root cause is not the media, it is us, human beings. It is in our nature to judge and criticize. Until we fix that then there are still going to be tons and tons of unhappy women and men for that matter. Banning models from catwalks is not going to help, that is fashion show producers trying to put on a good face. Some men in the public eye are being careful enough to state that they love “voluptuous” women. Well, that is still setting a standard. The same like saying “I love skinny women”. Basically, we have the same problem. Human beings will be human beings. As a woman I can speak for myself: I will love myself first and not wait for society to love me.

  2. I agree precisely – having been a sufferer of anorexia in my youth, I found reading this article to be basically telling me that I was a freak. I know for a fact that every girl in my grade would clutch at her stomach whenever our schoolbus would go past a stick-thin model on a billboard, and then the ‘curvacious’ size 10s would make us worry about our boobs or our hips. Our ass either wasn’t ‘curvy’ enough or not ‘thin’ enough. By the way, since when are word associations a reliable way of judging self-esteem?

  3. I think part of the problem is that for the most part the models are NOT even plump.

    They are called ‘outsize’ if they are a size 12 – that could be the girl in your office that’s got the most enviable curves combined with a washboard stomach.

    Calling such people ‘bigger’ or ‘outsize’ is plain ridiculous.

    Secondly, ‘bigger’ models only make girls feel worse as they are usually stick insects with huge breasts and curvaceous hips.

    This only makes us feel worse as girls are effectively being told either to aspire to a stick-thin physique or an unrealistic hourglass with surgically enhanced breasts and a miniscule waist.

    Until the media portrays a more realistic scope of female form, the self-image problems will continue.

    In the streets every day you see all shapes and sizes, but that’s not the case on TV or in magazines.

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