We’ve been saying it for years, but now we finally have proof. It has been found that seeing plus size models in the media is legitimately good for a woman’s mental health. A study carried out at Florida State University has shown that women are more likely to notice and remember average and plus size models in the media, compared to the “traditional-sized” models.
While you may want to say, “Duh!” it’s nice to have some empirical evidence to finally back us up on this.
What the study looked at
The studied examined how women responded, both psychologically and physiologically, to seeing models of different sizes. Lead author Dr. Russell Clayton, assistant professor in the Florida State University School of Communication, director of the Cognition and Emotion Lab, said that the study allowed them to gain key insights into the reaction of women to the model and fashion industry:
“By measuring psycho-physiological responses during image exposure, we were able to gain insights into the real-time cognitive and emotional responses that unfold when women are exposed to different-size media fashion models.”
The study involved 49 college-age women who all indicated that they wanted to be thinner. They were shown various images of thin, average, and plus size models on a TV screen and their psycho-physiological responses were then recorded as they looked at the various models.
The participants we asked questions about their body satisfaction and how much they compared themselves to the models after being shown each image, and the findings unsurprisingly revealed that they had different responses when looking at the thin models than when looking at the plus size models.
Fellow study author Dr. Jessica Ridgway, assistant professor in the Department of Retail, Merchandising and Product Development, highlights that this could have a big impact on the media:
“We found overwhelmingly that there is a clear psychological advantage when the media shows more realistic body types than the traditional thin model.”
Average and plus size models get more attention
The study found that participants paid less attention and remembered less about the models when they were straight-size than they did when they were average or plus size. They also came away from the experiment with less body satisfaction which can diminish psychological health. In contrast, those participants that saw average and plus size models made fewer comparisons, paid more attention, remember more about the models, and reported higher levels of body satisfaction.
Dr Clayton noted that the findings offer new evidence for improving women’s health and body positivity.
“Women made fewer social comparisons, felt increased body satisfaction, paid more attention to and remembered average and plus-size models. 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.”
Tess Holliday calls for a change in the modelling industry
Superstar plus size model and author Tess Holliday wrote in her op-ed piece for Revelist that there is still a long way to go when it comes to inclusivity in the industry. Diversity is still limited to plus size models who are 5’8”, with hourglass shapes in a size 10 or 12. And change will only come when it’s demanded:
“Change will only come, to models and beyond, if women keep demanding it. 74% of women told Dove researchers they believe more needs to be done to change the definition of beauty to be more inclusive, especially of different sizes and shapes.”
We’ve seen from the research carried out at Florida State University that seeing the same shape of model on screen and in the media, can have a significant impact on a woman’s mental well-being.
“I agree that this is crucial. When a person who’s struggling with body image issues sees someone who looks like them in a movie, in an advertising campaign, or being celebrated on social media, it’s like they get their own stamp of approval. They start to know their own power and importance.”
Nerd About Town petitions the government to make changes
As part of a British Youth Council initiative, the Youth Select Committee consists of 11 members all aged between 13 and 18. They recently help a set of panel talks in which influencers from various fields gathered to speak about resolving some of the issues surrounding negative body image. The program, supported by the House of Commons, is focusing its efforts on this issue in light of the noticeable increase in body confidence issues in the UK.
Plus size influencer Stephanie Yeboah, aka Nerd About Town, was a part of the diverse panel, contributing her experience in body image and the impact of social media.
“We mostly spoke about the portrayal (or lack thereof) of plus size bodies and bodies of colour in social media and how we thought it would affect young adults with the lack of representation.
We were asked to put forward suggestions to the Government as to what could be done to help body image in the UK, and how social media could help. I suggested that body positive workshops should be made available to year 7’s – if not run by teachers, then run by people like us!
Others on the panel also suggested things such as mandatory therapists in all school, for Facebook to take the reporting and blocking of abuse more seriously, and for harmful hashtags to be permanently blocked.
All in all, it was a good day! The Youth Committee will be taking our suggestions to the Government, and we will be hearing their results at the end of October!”