It seems obvious to most of us that the recent rise in plus-size and curve models is the result of greater demand for a wider range of body shapes and sizes that accurately depict the real world. More and more people are requesting that the fashion industry feature plus-size and curvier women.
A study recently published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing,
suggests that the opposite is taking place. This increase in plus-size visibility is making us obese.
To examine the relationship between marketing and health behaviours, the researchers conducted five experiments. They showed women ad campaigns that presented plus-size models in a normalized or positive way. Women who saw these ads ate more food afterward and report feeling less inclined to participate in a healthier lifestyle. The researchers believe this attitude could lead to weight gain and obesity.
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"One reason why being larger-bodied may appear to be contagious is that as it is seen as more socially permissible, individuals exhibit lower motivation to engage in healthy behaviors and consume greater portions of unhealthy food," wrote study authors Brent McFerran, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Beedie School of Business, and Lily Lin, Ph.D., an assistant professor at California State University. "Usage of larger body types [in advertising] increases unhealthy behaviors."
We like to think these ads are helping women who aren't super thin to love their bodies just a little bit more, but McFerran says they tested for that too and it simply is not the case. He said people who viewed the ads featuring plus-size women did not make them hate their body any less.
That being said, we still like to think that it is helping. Sure, society has blamed thin models for decades for promoting a standard of beauty that pushes women towards extreme weight loss measures, but more often than not, when you get down to the ultimate 'causes' of eating disorders and extreme fitness measures, the fashion industry is not the primary factor. In this same vein, plus-size models cannot be held accountable for rising obesity rates in the Western world. Our sedentary lifestyles and access to cheap, quick processed foods is a far more dangerous culprit.
Seeing plus-size women in ad campaigns, looking beautiful and strong, can only benefit women who have similar bodies. Knowing that you, too, can wear cute clothes and look like a million bucks HAS to help you feel better about yourself. Plus-size bodies may not necessarily serve as inspiration to adopt a strict diet and fitness routine, but they can serve as inspiration for women to accept themselves as they are right now. Maybe they will lose weight, maybe they won't. What we all need to remember is that being healthy isn't just about being thin and lean, it is also about feeling positive and happy to be who you are.
The more diversity we see in fashion ads and on the runway, the better. Our world tells people to look and behave a certain way in order to be considered not only beautiful, but acceptable. It is high time that we blew up that definition of beauty and created a new one, one that reflects all body sizes, big, small and in between.
What do you think? Do plus-size models inspire us or make us unhealthy?