Unrealistic body images among British women could be changed if advertising included more plus sized models according to a preliminary study.
Durham University scientists have found that using women in advertising who are more representative of the population seems to help women and girls develop healthier relationships with food.
Their study focused on 100 women that all preferred thin body shapes. These women were then shown advertising which featured plus sized models. This resulted in the women preferring the body types of the plus sized models rather than skinny models. When the women were then shown pictures of thin models again, they shifted their preferences back to a thinner body shape.
The researchers found they could also change women’s preferences simply by showing them pictures of ordinary women who were either thin or more curvaceous.
Lead author Dr Lynda Boothroyd, from Durham University's Department of Psychology, said, "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.
"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."
Another crucial finding was linked to how aspirational a photo was. The scientists found that given a choice, women preferred aspirational plus sized model photos over photos of plainly dressed underweight women. This shows women may be more attracted to women of any size as long as they look glamorous or have an aspirational quality to them.
Dr Boothroyd said, "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."
Currently, the Durham University researchers are working on creating a follow up study that includes men. Their goal is to determine whether viewing plus sized models could have a long term effect on body preferences and whether there is evidence for policies that would encourage more normal sized models in advertising.