We’re always looking for ways to feel confident, and yet we often end up comparing ourselves to others—which is right there on the list of things to quit doing. Easier said than done, when society places so much importance on appearance, and the fashion world continues to equate thinness with beauty. Of course, thin can be beautiful, but so can many other body shapes and sizes.
And it might surprise you to learn that despite fashion’s obsession with skinny models, in fact “average” and plus-size models are far more memorable, according to a study carried out by Florida State University and published in the journal Communication Monographs.
For this study, the researchers, led by Russell Clayton, assistant professor in the FSU School of Communication, examined how women—all of whom expressed a desire to be thinner—respond to models of different sizes. The research team showed them various images of thin, average, and plus-size models on a TV screen, and recorded their “psychophysiological responses”—the interaction between their mind and their body.
Besides paying more attention to and remembering more about the average and plus-size models, the study participants reported higher levels of body satisfaction after seeing the average and plus-size models, compared to their skinny counterparts.
“We found overwhelmingly that there is a clear psychological advantage when the media shows more realistic body types than the traditional thin model,” says Jessica Ridgway, assistant professor in the Department of Retail, Merchandising and Product Development.
Dr. Clayton believes it’s got something to do with making fewer social comparisons that trigger negative feelings, as he told ScienceDaily. “Therefore, it might be a useful persuasive strategy for media producers to employ plus-size models if the goal of the campaign is to capture attention while also promoting body positivity.”
The study doesn’t go into detail about why the women responded the way they did to the images, but the message is clear: Looking at women who are “average” or plus-size is a confidence booster. Hopefully designers, brands, magazine editors, and model agents will take notice. It’s not about banning skinny models, but embracing all body types and making sure women of all sizes are represented in ad campaigns, on screen, and on the pages of magazines.