Plus-size fashion models help improve women's mental health, says new research

A recent Nike campaign featuring plus-size model Paloma Elsesser had the fitness world in a frenzy.
Nike

A recent Nike campaign featuring plus-size model Paloma Elsesser had the fitness world in a frenzy.

Plus-size fashion models help improve women's psychological health, according to new research.

Researchers from Florida State University say women are more likely to pay attention to and remember average and plus-size models in the media compared to thin models, and also experience enhanced psychological health after viewing plus-size models, according to the study published in the journal Communication Monographs.

Researchers surveyed a group of nearly 50 young women who had indicated they wanted to be thinner, showing them a variety of images of thin, average and plus-size fashion models.After viewing each image, participants were asked questions about their body satisfaction and how much they had compared themselves to the models.

New Zealand label Lonely have used models off all body types for many years, including New York-based Kiwi model Georgia ...
Zara Mirkin / Lonely

New Zealand label Lonely have used models off all body types for many years, including New York-based Kiwi model Georgia Pratt.

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When average and plus-size models were shown, research participants made fewer comparisons, paid more attention and remembered more about those models. They also reported higher levels of body satisfaction.

However, when thin models were on screen, research participants made more comparisons, paid less attention and remembered less about the models. Participants also came away from the experiment with less body satisfaction, which can diminish psychological health.

"We found overwhelmingly that there is a clear psychological advantage when the media shows more realistic body types than the traditional thin model," said Jessica Ridgway, assistant professor in the Department of Retail, Merchandising and Product Development at the university.

Cat Pause, senior lecturer and Fat Studies scholar at Massey University, says she isn't surprised by the results.

"It isn't surprising that seeing a wide representation of women's bodies in material, be it on television, in magazines or online, increases the body satisfaction and self-esteem of individuals of all sizes.

"Representation is incredibly powerful, which is why media - including the news media - should be committed to showing bodies of all sizes, ethnicities and abilities," said Pause.

Auckland-based designer Sarah-Jane Duff of Lost And Led Astray says the response to her use of larger body sizes in ...
Lost And Led Astray

Auckland-based designer Sarah-Jane Duff of Lost And Led Astray says the response to her use of larger body sizes in campaigns has been overwhelmingly positive.

Auckland-based fashion designer Sarah-Jane Duff, whose label Lost And Led Astray caters to women of larger sizes and more diverse body types, said she was not surprised by the results of the research, but found the memory recall element, "which is maybe from relating to the models more," particularly interesting.

"It's overwhelming the pressure we put on ourselves to look a certain way," said Duff.

"At my New Zealand Fashion Week shows, using 'plus-size' models of all different shapes and sizes, it was a very emotional time for the audience. Many were even brought to tears and there were always standing ovations.

"My models range from size 16 to size 20, often friends or people I see on the street - the latest one I found at the supermarket and it made her day.

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"The response to my look books and imagery is always very positive, and I've even had comments through social media that my models aren't big enough."

 

 - Stuff

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