Thursday, January 28, 2021

“Plus Size” models make “normal” BMI women worry

March 18, 2010 by  
Filed under HAES

photo courtesy of Glamour magazine

Per a recent study: when women with low BMIs see advertisements with any models – straight size or “plus-size” (i.e. size 10/12 models), they exhibit a self-esteem boost.  When women with higher than average BMIs see advertisements with any models, they experience a self-esteem drop.  But women with “normal” BMIs:

If they viewed a moderately thin model, they felt similar and good; if they saw a moderately heavy model, they worried they were similar and overweight.

But the title of the article?  “Plus-Size Models Don’t Make a Difference to Consumers”

Excuse me, but I’m pretty sure a shift in self-esteem is a difference.  Oh no, that’s right, the focus here is the consumer, not the actual woman.  Why would we care what happens to the person if it doesn’t affect her shopping?

So what’s going on here?  For one, I’m pretty sure the writer is discounting ignoring the importance of self-esteem in women.  Two, he or she draws absolutely no conclusions about the significance of the reactions other than to say it “impacts [the women’s] willingness” to buy the advertised products.

How about questioning why women might experience a dip in self-esteem when shown a woman that possibly represents their size?  Why no question about why “overweight” women exhibit lower self-esteem when presented with any model, regardless of size?

Being held up to an unattainable standard of beauty is exhausting and when you’re exhausted, it’s difficult to feel good about yourself. Part of me wants to ask why this is news while part of me wants to ask why this “news” story didn’t bother questioning any of its own content.

The source article states that the professors:

performed a series of experiments based on the popular idea that looking at extremely thin models can negatively affect consumers’ self-esteem and possibly even lead to eating disorders in young girls. That belief is why fashion show organizers in Milan, Italy and Madrid, Spain, recently banned super waif models from their catwalks.

Or, you know, someone might care about the health of these women, starving themselves to achieve this ideal form.  Yes, some women are naturally a size 0 or 2 – and that’s fine for them.  But a large number of models have to live in an unhealthy way to achieve that size.

The study concludes:

These findings could be used to prompt changes in behavior. For example, if a normal-size woman sees moderately heavy images in ads for weight-loss products, she might feel overweight and be more inclined to buy a diet plan or gym membership. The same premise could apply to using heavy images in public service announcements aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic.

Will they find models for these ads or are they going to have to trick them or digitally alter images?  A friend of a friend is a plus-size model and she was once tricked into being the “Before” picture in a before-and-after advertisement for a weight loss product.  She stated that she doesn’t know any model who would willingly pose for those ads.  And do we really want to be in the business of tricking women into thinking they’re fat so they’ll buy weight loss products?  (Don’t answer that – I don’t want to have to hear what I already know.)

As a pre-teen and teen, I spent a lot of time reading fashion magazines and feeling bad about how none of the women looked like me and how I’d probably never look like any of them.  I often wonder what it would have been like to have a plus-size teen magazine or a store like Torrid back then.  I usually think my confidence would have been significantly boosted if I felt that someone, anyone, somewhere realized there were teens out there like me.

What do you think?  We spend a lot of time here thinking and talking about size and self-esteem and the media and advertising, but do you feel any discernible shift when viewing a model of your size versus one who is smaller or larger?


39 Responses to ““Plus Size” models make “normal” BMI women worry”
  1. Pamela says:

    An absolutely excellent post! I tend to lean towards the side of feeling bad when looking at a model regardless of her weight or size. When I see a thin model, I wish I was thinner like her. When I see a plus size model, I still wish I was thinner like her, but I find myself comparing my body more to hers and seeing the flaws in mine that you can’t see in her airbrushed body.

    • Candice says:

      I tend to look at the plus size models and notice how, even though they’re “bigger,” they don’t have particularly flabby inner thighs like I do, or things like that – like if only I could be as toned and shapely as they are, life would be great. But, like you say, stuff is airbrushed… and, of course, we’re not all the same!

      It’s a tough trap.

    • Heidi Dalzell says:

      It’s amazing what the modeling industry sees as a plus-size model. For anyone who hasn’t read it, I heartily recommend Crystal Renn’s book “Hungry.” She eloquently discusses how the industry promotes and reinforces anorexia. And what an absolutely beautiful woman. Go Crystal!

  2. living400lbs says:

    The original BBW Magazine did that for me, complete with fashion spreads. I used to bring out back issues during family dinners in the late 80s and got my mom, aunts and cousins so into the clothes that they’d forget to bash each other (and me) for being fat.

    Later I found Radiance, which routinely featured plus-size and supersize women.

    A google search on BBW pulls up mostly pay-per-view articles, but this one from 92 mentions BBW and its editor Carol Shaw.

    • Candice says:

      I wish I knew about that magazine then. I felt so trapped and confined to the plus-size tent-like clothes available at the local Kmart.

  3. tummygirl says:

    I’d have to agree with Pamela on this one, if I see thin then I wish I was that thin and when I see a plus size model it used to make me feel even worse since a plus size model was still 90lbs lighter than I was. It was brutal and just another reason to eat a donut.

    • Candice says:

      I’m sorry that it felt that way. I understand where the thought comes from – “If she’s FAT, then what am I?” which is why I think models should have true variety of size. If they are MODELS of what real people would look like in the clothing, they should be a variety of sizes – not just 2 or 12.

      And I want to add that I get the emotional eating statement, too. Hopefully that’s a part of your past, though. If you want a doughnut, have one. If you want one every single day, then maybe re-think that habit. 😉 (That’s how I think about food I consider “treats.”) I checked out your site and you look wonderful, so I hope you feel wonderful about yourself, too.

      • Rita says:

        I think part of my issue early on was that when I was younger there were no plus size models that were very mainstream, if at all in the 80s so when they burst onto the scene there was a big to do and attention called to it like spectacle rather then simply the, oh ya, most of us look like that anyway. And once again, I was bigger, the tabloid unflattering butt shot kind of big and the plus size models were not even close.

        Honestly, I have come to a place where, thank you so much btw, where I am thin according to the outside standards but am learning to live without feeling like an impostor or that i am renting a body that does not belong to me. I struggle more now than when I was heavy, there is internal pressure to stay this way and before there never was. It may be media, environment, my wiring but it is a work in progress for sure.

  4. I’m confused. The summary in the original article isn’t specific enough for me to understand what the study really showed. What’s “moderately thin”? Is that underweight or normal, like Crystal Renn? What’s “moderately heavy”? The article is titled “Ads with plus-size models unlikely to work,” but there’s a wide range of plus-size models. Some have a normal BMI, and some are overweight. Which is the study talking about? I’m going to try to get my hands on the original piece.

    • Simone says:

      I am similarly puzzled. So, an extremely thin model makes heavy women feel all angty, but so does a plus-sized model…but in between, there is a sweet spot of “moderate thinness” ? Which would be…where?

      The only way I can make this compute is to say that in most women’s view, being a size 0-2 makes you a skinny, skinny self-esteem killer, while being a size 8-10 makes you a fat, fat, fattie. So, the only women “normal weight” ladies can apparently compare themselves to without trauma are are women who wear a size 4-6. To which I say…”the f*ck?” This basically means that the women studied were negatively affected by all women outside about a ten-pound weight range. (That is, there is typically around a ten-pound weight range in which a given woman will wear a size 4-6; that range will clearly be different for each woman.)

      What confuses me about this isn’t just the fact that some women apparently *cannot handle* viewing images of other women, except those that fall into a particular weight range. It’s that the range is do darn specific. To me, there is little perceptual difference between a woman who wears a size 2 and a woman who wears a size 6, or between a 6 and a ten. My magical weight estimating powers are just not that strong.

      I also love, love, *love* that plus models are described as overweight (in the original article, *not* this post.) A size 8 (the bottom of the plus-model range) corresponds to a solidly healthy weight for me, and I am broad-boned, non-athletic, and really, really short. A size ten put me at the tip-top of the healthy range. Since most models are far more toned than I am, and *all* models are much taller, I would guess that many, many plus-sized models are not actually overweight.

      But no. Having visible curves means you clearly, clearly have the ZOMGBEEEESITY.

      • Simone says:

        Er…that would be “normal weight” women, who feel all “angsty.”


      • Candice says:

        I agree wholeheartedly. I would have a hard time knowing if someone was a size 2 or a size 6. When I was a size 12, most people assumed I was an 8 – meanwhile, I don’t believe my body could ever be an 8 through “normal” diet and exercise efforts.

        But, yes – to Leigh Ann and Simone – the article is confusing, which was my first problem with it. It doesn’t go far enough as far as questioning – and, in fact, raises more questions than it answers.

  5. 1noelle says:

    When I see a woman who exudes confidence I find her beautiful and sexy and powerful no matter what her size is.
    I almost have to shut out fashion advertising because it only caters to a small minority of people and I am not one of them and it does have a negative affect on me and my attitude of wishing I was different.
    A great friend of mine, makeup artist and photographer, Fiona, while getting me ready for a shoot, told me her job is all about capturing the ‘better version of me”. She sees the the beauty that already exists with each model and with the use of make up, lighting, clothing and poses she can bring it out. I don’t know make up or how to stand or any of those things like most all of us. But when given the right tools and direction it is possible to look and feel better and it did not require any change in weight to accomplish that.

    “Creating the better version of yourself.” Somehow that spoke to me so I wanted to share that with all of you.

    • . . . says:

      You know, people shouldn’t have to look a certain way just to look beautiful, you should FEEL beautiful, it shouldn’t have to require make up, being thin, wearing sexy clothes, or anything, but that could help for some people.(which is almost always just temporary) I know it’s easier said than done, but everyone should just TRY to accept themselves for EVERY PART of their personality AND mind, body, and soul, just sayin.

  6. Nell says:

    I am a normal size woman. Naked, I look more like Jillian Michaels than a model (comparably. Just not QUITE as ripped).

    Seeing thin models makes me wish for their figure. Seeing “plus size” models (who really are only a couple sizes larger than me) makes me wish for their figure.

    Do these images impact my self-esteem? Of course they do. Negatively? Yes. Will this impact disincline me to buy the advertised product? Not really.

    Now, I also belong to a group of customers never really targeted in ads- the educated, critical, necessity-buying group, also called the “ad-resistant” according to a friend of mine working in the business. Seeing or not seeing ads, I would probably still exhibit the same buying behavior.

    Still, I sometimes wish, especially as a woman, that my self-esteem didn’t need to take heavy hits each and every day. I wish ads were more targeted at giving information about the product than showing something unachievable for comparison against oneself.

    For me, seeing thin models means seeing some of the people in my business- starving, unhappy and, sorry to say so but just evidenced again today, borderline alcoholic (no food, just the champagne please says that to me). These people are nonetheless touted as the ideal women. Average me has no place there.

    Plus-size models embody the ideal “real” woman my ex-boyfriends lusted after when not trying to devise ways of getting in bed with Megan Fox. Buxom, curvy, perfect. Once again, average me, who has no bust and “thunder thighs” doesn’t compare. The focus is different but the feeling is the same.

    “Being held up to an unattainable standard of beauty is exhausting and when you’re exhausted, it’s difficult to feel good about yourself.”
    There are days when I can simply phase out all the images I’m assaulted with every single minute of the day. Most days, though, I capitulate and allow myself to feel minuscule and irrelevant and imperfect. Exhausted- a good word. Exhausting the resistance of “normal” customers/ad-viewers is, after all, one of the goals of advertisement.
    Still wish they would go about this differently.

    Lastly on the point of fashion ads: I buy sports stuff, relaxing stuff and jeans and tees when I need them. My business suits are tailored (one concession to the standards here). I’ve never been into fashion mags or women’s mags, so I’m only talking public, television and news and info mag ads here. Maybe things are different when you read Vogue? I don’t know.

  7. Simone says:

    I am roughly the size of a typical plus-sized model (perhaps a little bigger, but not too much). I find it really, really affirming to see images of women about my size. But maybe that’s because I’m already very aware of my size and shape, and of how I stack up against the average woman, models, the “hot” girls I went to high school with, etc. So seeing a plus model wouldn’t make me think “Wow, am I ‘big’ like her?”

    Actually, I’m a little confused as to why *anyone* would have the train of thought. The mind works in mysterious ways…

  8. Ashley says:

    Models do not have any effect on the way I feel about my own body, no matter their size or what they look like. I have learned to become confident by my own standards and I have taught myself to not rely on figures of the media to boost my self esteem. I also don’t necessarily thinks it’s a good thing to see a model of a certain size, and only then is the time when someone feels good about themselves.

  9. says:

    Yes this is important things for model. They must have a great ideal body. I hope they read your articles.

  10. Candice says:

    Thanks to everyone for the great replies. It’s been really interesting to read a variety of points of view on how we personally “interact” with ads featuring models.

  11. Kate says:

    I have always been naturally underweight in terms of standard BMI measurements, but when I see plus sized models, I feel relieved. It’s refreshing to see women who look healthy, and I wish there plus sized ads were much more common than they are.

    I think it’s also time to look at the issue of what sorts of faces are considered beautiful, in addition to what body weight. While it’s definitely a step in the right direction for women with some fat on their bodies to be able to model, I’ve noticed that their faces look almost exactly the same as the very thin models. I’m tired of looking at the same taut, Scandinavian, wide-mouthed, girlish faces. As a ethnic-looking Jewish woman, I’d like to see some noses once in a while!

    • Candice says:

      Excellent point. I don’t like how different ethnicities are “in” every year – one year it’s Brazilian, another year it’s Russian, another year African. I would love to see a fully mixed runway show – women of varying sizes as well as ethnicities.

    • Simone says:

      Seconded. The women I find most attractive in real life rarely have model-esque faces.

  12. FatNSassy says:

    Who sponsored the study? MSM is full of planted stories with hidden agendas. The reason we see very thin women is MSM’s real purpose is to help sell products. The more women insecure about their weight, the more customers the diet industry has.

    • CandiceBP says:

      The study was conducted by Arizona State University, the University of Cologne in Germany and Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

  13. Gabby says:

    I don’t think it’s the models, I think it’s the labels. They’re not calling underweight models, well, underweight. But they call “normal” models “plus sized.”

    At the end of the day, looking at a model that looks like you with a label on it saying, “By the way, she’s bigger than average” makes you think “…Am I not normal then? I’m plus sized? This one with her collar bones sticking out isn’t labeled differently, so she must be what’s normal and this plus sized woman must be fat/different. If not, why would they label her that way?”

    I wish they would label the thin ones underweight if the larger ones get plus sized.

  14. Cynthia says:

    I’ve often wondered what would happen if they used slightly shorter and slightly “bigger” models rather than these 6′ tall size 0 girls. For example, how would we, as the public, react to 5’7″, size 6 women? What about very short, size zero women (5′ tall, say)? There are A LOT of women who’re 5′ tall and size zero, particularly those who’re of East Asian descent.

  15. Kristin says:

    I personally loved when glamour released thus picture because I thought,”Finally! Real women in a magazine!” but then I stopped when I saw they were stated as plus sized. Those women are NOT fat! They are beautiful, HEALTHY women. I’m sure they don’t snort coke or skip meals or puke up all their food. These women are NORMAL. They are the way women are in REAL life…not magazines and movies and television. Not to say that being a size 2 NATURALLY is unhealthy or wrong. I think you should be what you are…not what agents that are trying to rake in some dough are telling you to be. I am 5’7, and I used to be known as the “tall, skinny girl”, but when I hit age 19, I did what all girls do…I grew up. I got hips, breasts, thighs, and a pretty large rump. Lol. My metabolism started slowing, but I still consumed as much food as I did when I was a growing girl. So I went from
    a size 8 to a size 14. And I was constantly running into people I went to high school that would say, “Wow, Kristin! You’ve gotten FAT!” I was sick of it. And I was tired of being congratulated on becoming pregnant. So I decided to lose weight via the Atkins diet. And it worked! 5 months in with FINALLY small starch portions with lots of protein and veggies…and I’m a size 10! And I’m happy about it! But I can’t help but feel discouraged when I hear the size 6 girls at work saying, “Im so fat. No wonder my husband won’t sleep with me!” Really? You’re fat? Well I guess I’m morbidly obese. Yup. I’ll be signing up for that gastric bypass/lypo package. Thanks.

  16. Nichole says:

    I am actually disgusted when I see a plus size model. I am 5’6 and 158lbs. My BMI is 25.05 so I am almost a normal weight. I lose 3lbs and my BMI is within the normal range. So when I see a plus size model I start to question am I really fat? I have never considered myself fat. I have a nice shape and wear a size 10 – 12 in pants due to having large hips and thighs. But I wear a medium in shirts and a size medium in dresses.

    So I think plus size actually hurts us normal women because it causes us to look at ourselves as fat. Plus size is synonomous with fat. So when women with BMIs of 25 are claiming to be fat it makes me sick to my stomach.

  17. Jen says:

    I’m going to take a slightly different stance here. All marketing NEEDS to make us feel insecure in order to buy the new thing that they are advertising. Think your lashes and eyes are tiny? Buy this amazing new mascara! Think you’re miserable and depressed? New clothes will help!

    I used to shop quite a lot to make myself feel good, whereas at the moment I am feeling pretty good about myself, and I’m busy doing things with my body rather than obsessing about how it looks and I’ve found that I don’t need new clothes or make-up or any of that.

    I try to ignore ads, we don’t have a TV, I have long-since stopped buying magazines and I find I tend to be more cynical about billboard ads now that I am not continually bombarded with images during my leisure time.

    That said, I was on the bus past the Evans clothes store (plus size) yesterday and their models are “normal” size as opposed to twiglet-ish. But the clothes make them look bigger! I think on some level as a larger person you realise that the clothes will not make you look like the models in the window, although it is that ideal that you are buying into when you buy the clothes.

    Like Nichole I do not consider myself to be plus size, however most “plus size” models are the same or smaller than me – perhaps they just mean plus size for a model, rather than normal compared to the rest of us???

  18. Katie says:

    The women in the photo above are the absolute definition of beauty. Look at classical art!

  19. Heather says:

    I think a flaw in the study is that we’re looking only at teen/adult women now.. they’re not considering future generations. Current generations have already grown up with body shaming, fat phobia, sizeism, etc.. but real test is how it will effect young girls who would grow up in a body positive generation? You can’t use one study to dismiss an entire group of models completely- let’s also keep in mind that they were using size 10 models.. which are still smaller than the average woman who is a size 16. What we really need is not more size 10 models but more varied models- size 2, 8, 12, 18, 22, 26, 30.. the problem comes in creating any standard beauty ideal rather than recognizing many body types as beautiful. More so, it takes time to change attitudes and correct self esteem issues.. it’s not magical, it’s not instant.. do the study over a period of 20 or 30 years and then we may be talking something valid.. but this? This is just bad science to draw conclusions from this one, pathetic, study.

  20. Lucy says:

    I just went through a whole bunch of plus-size modelling agency websites and basically confirmed what I’ve said for so long. The term is “plus size” but sometimes, there’s nothing “plus” about the model. I’m 5’6 1/2 (169 cm) tall and wear a UK size 14 / 16 and I would be elligible for plus sized modelling based on those numbers. Thing is, I know I’m overweight, but I would never have associated myself with the term “plus-sized”. Quite frankly I don’t care. It’s just a name. I think what’s more important here is that we get more “plus sized”, “real” …whatever term you fancy, out there. Looking at the kind of adverts lining the streets, slapped onto the billboards and all over our TV screens, I must admit, yes, they make me insecure. I feel fat looking at them and would much rather not let them affect my mood. When I do see a girl on a poster who actually looks “real” I smile, because there’s a glimmer of hope out there.
    Now there’s another question to address. What is “real”? We live in a world where there are billions of different faces and body shapes, I believe beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Why don’t we just play fair and represent the variety of shapes out there? Apple, pear, skinny, fat, sporty whatever…

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  22. Plus Model says:

    I think most people see attributes in others, both larger and smaller, that they might want for themselves. I think the key is knowing what you can and can not be and what you are willing to do or not do to maintain or achieve a certain look while being comfortable in that knowledge.

  23. phildawg says:

    that’s a HOT photo

  24. Keitha says:

    I came across this website looking for women with BMI similar to mine. And i have to say that no matter the ad (plus size or thin model) i feel like crap afterwards. i used to be very thin and didnt even realize it because i always felt huge. now, 50 pounds heavier, i feel disgusting. When i see that i’m no where near the size of Angelina or Megan Fox or any other hollywood “hotties” i feel so inferior. And when i see the beautiful women in the plus sized ads i think “why cant i look like her?” or “well, if she’s “fat” i must be a whale.” what sucks even more is when i go into “normal stores” and cant find anything that fits right (usually too small) and then i go into plus sized stores like torrid or lane bryant, and the smallest size is too big. my shopping options are very slim and i usually end up at a thrift store and my tailor. overall, i try not to let models influence my self-esteem or body image, but when i cant fit into anything at the store, it doesnt help at all. what also doesnt help is how a lot of guys “want” or agree with the photos of stars and models (uhh victoria’s secret is “read” by just as many guys). maybe my body is just completely “off” because i dont think im normal sized and clearly not like any sort of model.

  25. Lulu says:

    I’m not that tall (5’7) but I am skinny like a model. Does that mean happiness? Who cares, I live in a place where everyone and her mother gets boob jobs and butt implants. So It’s not that beautiful to be skinny. Being beautiful is a matter of perspective. But not everyone is beautiful, whatever the current definition of beauty might be. But remember, there’s more to life than beauty.

  26. Amanda says:

    Clothing advertisements are made to make you want to look like the woman in them. Extreme thinness is a hard-to-achieve beauty standard, so advertisers project that as beautiful to make consumers feel bad because they don’t conform to that. The modeling industry might never do what it should (have normal BMI models that are neither very skinny nor “plus-size”–both of which are not very healthy). That is because they are BUSINESSES. They do what earns them dinero. Having skinny models does that for them.
    All models make women feel bad because we don’t look exactly like anyone else. We need to get over ourselves and work on being healthy and confident and not having to constantly one-up other women.

  27. Chase says:

    Consumer behaviorists don’t care about self esteem. They count on our lack of self-esteem to drive us to the stores/dealerships/websites/makeup-counters/gyms to cover up our self-doubt and shame. They’re only interested in self-esteem if they can find a way to monetize it. Sad.

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