Plus-size models 'may change women’s obsession with thin bodies'
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The Durham University researchers, who studied over 100 women, provide evidence to back calls for models in adverts to be more representative of the actual population.
This move could ultimately help girls and women to develop a healthier attitude to eating, the researchers say.
In the preliminary study, women who habitually strongly preferred thin body shapes were significantly less keen on thin bodies after they had been shown pictures of plus size catalogue models.
Conversely, showing slim models increased women's preference for thin bodies.
The effects could be found whether the women were shown catalogue models or ordinary women of either size.
The findings provide research data for policy-makers and support for on-going calls from Government and health charities to "normalise" female models in the media.
"This really gives us some food for thought about the power of exposure to super-slim bodies. There is evidence that being constantly surrounded through the media by celebrities and models who are very thin contributes to girls and women having an unhealthy attitude to their bodies," lead author Dr Lynda Boothroyd from Durham University said.
"Although we don't yet know whether brief exposure to pictures of larger women will change women's attitudes in the long term, our findings certainly indicate that showing more 'normal' models could potentially reduce women''s obsession for thinness.
"Thinner bodies are definitely in vogue and within western media, thinness is overwhelmingly idolised and being overweight is often stigmatised. Although the media doesn't directly cause eating disorders, research suggests it is a very powerful factor in creating body dissatisfaction.
"Furthermore, it seems that even so-called 'cautionary' images against anorexia might still increase our liking for thinner bodies, such as those featuring the late French model Isabelle Caro, who gained worldwide publicity for posing nude for an anti-anorexia campaign while suffering from the illness. These campaigns may not have the desired effect which is a sobering thought," she said.
The images used in the study were of thin and plus size models from high street catalogues and beauty contests, and of ordinary women photographed in plain grey leotards.
The thin models shown were a standard size for catalogue models and the women in leotards had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 11 and 14. The plus size models were a minimum of clothes size 16 and the women in leotards had a BMI of between 36 and 42.
The study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.