Moderately Heavy Models Lower Women’s Self-Esteem

These model dimensions may not
work out; © PixelQuelle.de

Waifish models have long been accused of setting unrealistic beauty standards and lowering self-esteem. Some companies – such as Dove – have switched to using more realistic-looking models in conjunction with empowering messages.

"We demonstrated that exposure to thin models does not necessarily have a negative impact on one's self-esteem," explain Dirk Smeesters from Tilburg University and Naomi Mandel at Arizona State University in their paper. "On the contrary, exposure to moderately thin (but not extremely thin) models has a positive impact on one's self-esteem."

In the first part of the study, participants selected four representative models in each category from a larger sample of images. These images were then shown to randomly chosen women in conjunction with a lexical decision trial – that is, the participants were timed as they responded to words related to thinness and heaviness.

Looking at moderately thin or extremely heavy models led to an increase in self-perception of thinness and an increase in self-esteem. By contrast, seeing extremely thin or moderately heavy models focused women's thoughts on how heavy they felt.

These results shed light on why magazines featuring only plus-sized models don't have the success of the magazine that feature slim models: “Campaigns featuring moderately heavy 'real women' might not be as inspirational or effective as expected," conclude Smeesters and Mandel.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Chicago