I’m as surprised as you are…
Research: Plus-size models lower self-esteem
Advertisements with “plus-size” models are unlikely to positively impact their target audience, according to the findings of a new study from Arizona State University, as well as , the University of Cologne in Germany and Erasmus University in the Netherlands. Ads like Dove’s “Campaign For Real Beauty” actually lowered enthusiasm in both overweight and normal-weight consumers, according to Naomi Mandel, a marketing professor at Arizona State’s W.P. Carey School of Business. In fact, overweight consumers’ self esteem and enthusiasm for purchasing products was depleted when they saw ads with any size model.
The findings are significant to Ms. Mandel because companies like Dove and magazines that feature models of all sizes are often praised. But while the approach may be popular, it may not be effective.
Ms. Mandel conducted the study because she wanted to see if looking at skinny models had a link to consumer self esteem or even eating disorders. The professors examined respondent attitudes about their own body size before viewing the ads. They were then asked if they considered themselves similar or different to the models in the ads.
Some of the findings surprised Ms. Mandel. Although thin models did deflate most women’s self esteem, the biggest correlation wasn’t the model’s size – it was the relative difference between the consumer’s size and the model’s size. Normal-weight respondents had the most easily influenced reaction. They identified with both the thin and plus-size models, the study showed, yo-yoing between feeling confident and pondering a diet. The overweight respondents’ reactions were the same, regardless of the size of the models
“Overweight respondents didn’t like any of the models, regardless of size,” Ms. Mandel says. “They didn’t seem to like what was reflected at them.” .
Dove hasn’t responded, but Ms. Mandel says she would like to work with them for future research. The findings will be published in the April issue of the “Journal of Consumer Research.”