are advertisements with “plus-sized” models hurtful?

“Plus-size” women are being seen more between the pages of magazines and in advertisements, but now a new study by Arizona State University is saying that companies could actually see more detrimental effects from doing this. I have a few things to point out while I summarize the study because while this might be true, I’m skeptical about parts of the research.


The university, along with the University of Cologne (Germany) and Erasmus University (Netherlands), performed a series of experiments to look at the idea that thin models negatively effect consumers’ self esteem and are linked to eating disorders in young women. Because of this, runways in Milan and Madrid have banned very thin models from the runway and these researchers wanted to see if it’s necessary.

FLAG #1: As much as this proposition is interesting, I think they had a glitch from the beginning. I’m glad they’re trying to show that the media doesn’t have a direct effect on whether or not someone has an eating disorder; however, the ban on models isn’t just for the consumer’s sake, but for the health and well-being of the model. Models are real people just like you and me and fashion is not just about what you’re wearing, it’s also about how you wear it. Sickly is not attractive.

During each experiment, female students were categorized in three groups based on their BMI- low, normal and high. They were then shown a variety of ads before answering several questions- some related to the study and others that were not. The questions were formed in order to show any self-esteem shifts based on the model sizes they saw in the ads and whether they considered themselves to be similar to or different from those sizes.

FLAG #2: I understand that BMI is a numerical way to categorize people, but I’m still so weary about using it as a measure at all. Yes, these researchers were doing their research based on perceptions, but BMI doesn’t show the health of a person so for them to assume that high BMI means heavy (and maybe unhealthy) while a low BMI means thin (and possibly healthy). I feel the lines are so gray that this wasn’t a good idea.

Instead, maybe they could have had a questionaire ahead of time for participating students that had their perception of themself before the survey- like “wants to lose weight,” “doesn’t want to lose weight,” ” athletic,” and other adjectives- to categorize them. This is not as numerical, but someone who is trying to lose weight is going to percieve others differently then those who are not.

The actual finding showed that women with a low BMI showed a boost in self-esteem when they viewed all advertisements because they identified positively to the thinner models and felt different from the heavier models. On the other hand, high BMI showed a decrease in self-esteem when they viewed the advertisements because they weren’t able to identify with the thinner, “idealized,” models, but could to the overweight models.

This study also found that the women within the normal BMI range had the greatest shifts in self-esteem depending on what advertisement they were shown. For example, if they viewed a thin model, they felt similar and good and if they saw a moderately heavy model, they worried they were similar and overweight.

FLAG #3: Call me funny, but I’d like to see an example of what kinds of ads were shown in this study because with how it was written, it seemed like the ads with the “plus-sized” or “overweight” models were not attractive. If an ad doesn’t show the model has attractive or in a great pose, results would obviously be skewed. We’ve heard that some ads have made plus-sized models heavier than they are, but we’ve seen some glamourous ads too so basically they could have made the results point this way from the start if they wanted to.

And fueling myths, it was said that “these findings could be used to prompt changes in behavior. For example, if a normal-size woman sees moderately heavy images in ads for weight-loss products, she might feel overweight and be more inclined to buy a diet plan or gym membership. The same premise could apply to using heavy images in public service announcements aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic.” I’m not going to even comment on that one since if you’ve read me before, I’m sure you can hear my voice ranting.

Do you think plus-size models help or hurt campaigns? Do you like seeing a diversity or prefer straight-sized models? I personally love the diversity, but as I saw on Twitter last night women do not want magazines to gloat that they’re using plus-sized models and I agree.

As Caitlin said,

To which, Gracie and Julie followed with,

And you? What are your thoughts?


8 responses to “are advertisements with “plus-sized” models hurtful?

  1. I like diversity in the models, but I wish it wasn’t such a big deal! I think it should be normal to have beautiful women of all different shapes and sizes – unfortunately having a “plus-sized” model seems to be a novelty now-a-days…

  2. Gah, my last response was deleted!!

    I completely agree. I would rather see a variety of models than just one body type. I think it is so rude to call a size 8 “plus sized.” Seriously, WTF?! We need to stop labeling people.

  3. Pingback: are advertisements with “plus-sized” models hurtful? « the … tuition university

  4. Pingback: are advertisements with “plus-sized” models hurtful? « the … city university

  5. I agree with Elle- I wish the media spent less time talking about what they’re doing (ie featuring plus size models) and just DO IT. Make it a norm, not a novelty. Incorporate more plus size models into magazine pages and fashion shows, rather than devoting one spread/issue or show to them.

  6. According to me i think everyone want to see something new. Plus sized models can also do well if they look good and attractive. Impressed with the post written.

  7. I loved reading this. And I agree with Elle and Nichole. I think we need to show women (and men!) of all shapes and sizes, and that every shape and size can be considered attractive, that body shape and attractiveness do not have to be inversely correlated (e.g., the less you weigh, the more attractive you become). Plus, I agree that BMI is not a realistic calculator. By that rationale, Venus Williams is 3kg off from being overweight. We need to make it the norm that beauty and size are not overlapping themes; rather, that health and intelligence are beautiful, no matter what the shape. Down with heroin chic, up with heroine chic!

  8. First of all they should not be called ‘plus sized models’ because as a fifteen year old girl, all I’m hearing is ‘fat people with a lot of make up’ and when I look at the pictures of them and see that I look like a ‘plus sized model’ it makes me want to cry and hide in my bedroom without eating anything for the rest of the day.
    Models should NOT be categorized by what size they are, they should just all be mixed in together. If you are healthy and have a pretty face, than that is all that should be needed to be on a runway.
    In movies, and magazines, and TV shows all of the important people have the EXACT same slim, tall flawless body. And anyone even slightly off that is posed as the silly, unimportant character. So all our lives we are taught that if we don’t have the PERFECT body, we can never be the important girl. All we can be is the dumb, goofy, hopeless girl that no one really wants around or cares about (ex. the movie Bridesmaides).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s