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The study says changing images used in fashion, magazines and on TV would help develop a healthier attitude to eating.
Women would be less obsessed about being thin if more ‘plus size’ models were used in advertising, a new study reveals.
Durham University’s research supports the idea that models in adverts should be more representative of ‘normal’ women.
And it suggests changing images used in fashion, magazines and on TV would help develop a healthier attitude to eating.
The study found women who habitually strongly preferred thin body shapes were significantly less keen on them after they had been shown pictures of plus size models.
Showing images of slim models increased women’s preference for thin bodies.
Psychologist Dr Lynda Boothroyd, lead author of the report, said: “This really shows 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.
“Our findings certainly indicate that showing more ‘normal’ models could potentially reduce women’s obsession for thinness.”
The study showed 100 women of different age groups a series of images from catalogues and magazines of plus size models, as well as using computer generated images.
It recreated the impact of walking down a street, looking at billboards of different sized models, and then explored the preferences of the women taking part.
Dr Boothroyd warned even images of the late French model Isabelle Caro, who gained worldwide publicity for posing nude for an anti-anorexia campaign, may not put off women who are obsessed with being thin.
She added: “Thinner bodies are definitely in vogue.”
“In western media, thinness is overwhelmingly idolised and being overweight is often stigmatised.”
“Although that does not directly cause eating disorders, research suggests it is a very powerful factor in creating body dissatisfaction.”
“The effect of showing bodies of a particular size was to shift preference for body size in that direction.”
“If all advertisers followed suit and used plus size models then there is potential to have a really positive impact.”
The study follows a recent M&S campaign for women’s underwear which used plus size models.
We see an average of 2,000 images a day in advertising, most thinner than average, according to Susan Ringwood, Chief Executive of eating disorders charity Beat.
She said: “Increasing the diversity of body shapes and sizes portrayed in the media could re-balance our views about our own bodies in an emotionally healthy way.”
Models used in the study included standard size catalogue models, and ‘plus size’ women who were a minimum size 16 in clothes.
When larger models, paired with plain images of underweight women, were shown, preferences shifted away from thinness.
Rachel Cowey, 25, of South Shields, developed anorexia at 16, and now helps support people with eating disorders.
She said: “Many factors led to my eating disorder, school pressures, bullying, family issues, the need to be ‘perfect’.
“Within the media, being thin and attractive is linked to being successful.”
Actress Romola Garai, star of BBC’s The Hour drama series, criticised the obsession with women’s body size in TV, and films.
Garai, 30, starred in “Emma” and “Atonement” after landing a part in TV’s “The Last Of The Blonde Bombshells” while she was still a student.
She said: “My weight was a very big issue when I started. I was then – and am now – a very normal size 10.
“But that’s not acceptable. Everyone’s aware of it.
“It’s partly because fashion, film and television have become so interdependent.
“Increasingly, it’s actresses doing the big fashion advertising campaigns and there’s no distinction between actresses and models.
“There’s no way I could ring up a company that was lending me a red-carpet dress and say ‘do you have it in a 10?’
“Because all the press samples are an 8 – I would say a ‘small 8’. If you want the profile, you have to lose the weight.”
The research is in leading international academic journal, PLOS ONE, tomorrow and was led by Durham with help from Newcastle Uni and the VU University Amsterdam.
Follow up research will look in more detail at the change in preferences and will include both women and men.