Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 1, 2004, pp. 104-122
DOES SIZE MATTER? THE IMPACT OF MODEL'S BODY SIZE O N WOMEN'S BODY-FOCUSED ANXIETY AND ADVERTISING EFFECTIVENESS EMMA HALLIWELL AND HELCA DITTMAR University of Sussex
An increasing number of studies shows that exposure to thin ideal bodies in the media has negative effects on young women's body images, at least in the short-term. However, this research has (a) consistently confounded the effects of thinness and attractiveness, and (b) not investigated the potential use of alternative images in advertising that do not decrease women's body esteem. This study examines the impact of three types of advertisements—featuring thin models, average-size models, or no models—on adult women's body-focused anxiety, and on advertising effectiveness. As expected, exposure to thin models resulted in greater body-focused anxiety among women who internalize the thin ideal than exposure to average-size models or no models. Yet, advertisements were equally effective, regardless of the model's size. This implies that advertisers can successfully use larger, but attractive, models and perhaps avoid increasing body-focused anxiety in a large proportion of women.
Levels of concern and public debate about whether the use of very thin models in the media has a detrimental effect on women are increasing. For example, the government in the UK held a body image summit in June 2000 to discuss the need for policies regarding such media images, and the Medical Association concluded "the media play a significant role in the aetiology of eating disorders" (BMA, 2000). Psychological research has an important role in addressing two questions that are crucial to this debate. Is it true that displaying very thin We would like to thank all of the women who took time to participate in this study, and particularly those who assisted in recruiting women for this research. We are grateful to Viv Vignoles and two reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. Address correspondence to Dr. Helga Dittmar, Social Psychology, Department of Psychology, Pevensey Building, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, BNl 9QH, East Sussex, England; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 104
ADVERTISING AND WOMEN'S BODY-FOCUSED ANXIETY
models as the ideal makes for better advertising? Is the thin ideal really detrimental to adult women? Hardly any studies have addressed possible links between advertising effectiveness and the use of thin models. However, some research has investigated the impact of thin media images. ADVERTISING EFFECTIVENESS
While there has been extensive criticism of the use of ultra-thin models in advertising, the advertising industry seems reluctant to change its approach. The argument against using larger models is that "thirmess" sells, whereas "fatness" does not. A spokesperson for the agency representing top models Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer asserts that "Statistics have repeatedly shown that if you stick a beautiful skinny girl on the cover of a magazine you sell more copies... At the end of the day, it is a business and the fact is that these models sell the products" (Gillian 2000, p. 7). This effectiveness argument is commonly used to defend the use of thin images in advertising, but there is little empirical support for this view. Experimental studies demonstrate that the physical attractiveness of a model in an advertisement increases consumers' positive attitudes toward the product, their willingness to purchase (Kahle & Homer, 1985), and actual purchase (Caballero & Solomon, 1984). Yet, the influence of a model's body size on advertising effectiveness has not been examined systematically. So, while there is empirical support for the proposition that advertising should employ attractive images, we do not know if it needs to employ extremely thin models. THIN MEDIA IMAGES AND THEIR IMPACT ON WOMEN Compared to the...
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