Study Shows Seeing Curvy Models In Media May Boost Viewers' Body Confidence

“We found, overwhelmingly, that there is a clear psychological advantage of depicting the non-ideal body type in media campaigns."

The body positivity movement has made huge strides in the past few years. Several companies have created successful campaigns without airbrushing or retouching their models. Some brands have expanded their collection to include a wider range of sizes, while others have been created specifically to be more inclusive. Models such as Ashley Graham, Barbie Ferreira, and Iskra Lawrence have become household names and have helped give people of diverse sizes more representation in fashion. 

And, thanks to a new study, we are finding that these brands, designers, and models, who have fought for body diversity and inclusivity in fashion and media, can have a positive impact on everyday women. 


In the study, which was published in the Communications Monographs journal, was conducted at Florida State University. Forty-nine college-aged women who are considered to be of average weight, but who want to weigh less, were selected to participate in the study. 

The women were randomly shown 12 images of fashion models varying in body types. After seeing each image, participants were asked to categorize the model based on body type, rate how attractive each model was perceived, rate the level of pleasantness, unpleasantness, and arousal associated with the image, and report how much they compared themselves to her. They were also asked whether or not they'd purchase the apparel depicted in each image. 

In addition to the survey, the participants' heart rate was monitored. 

"The results indicated that women reported the greatest body satisfaction, and the least amount of social comparisons, when viewing plus-size models, but body satisfaction decreased and social comparisons increased when viewing average sized followed by thin size models," the researchers wrote in the study. 

In other words, when the participants looked at thin models, they felt less confident in their own size, made more comparisons between themselves and the model, and paid less attention to the media. When they looked at images of plus-size models, they felt more satisfied with their bodies, made fewer comparisons, paid closer attention, and remembered more about the models and apparel they had seen. 

"We found, overwhelmingly, that there is a clear psychological advantage of depicting the non-ideal body type in media campaigns," the researchers wrote. "These findings suggest that incorporating more realistically sized fashion models in the media might have its benefits in terms of improved health outcomes potentially including experiencing less dejection-related emotions (i.e., less body dissatisfaction) and accentuated negative outcomes." 

Though we can't draw any definitive conclusions about the effects of fashion advertising from such a small study, hopefully these findings will help bring awareness to some of the benefits of having diverse body types featured in fashion. 

Researchers plan to expand this study by getting a larger group of participants and include college-aged men, adolescent boys and girls, and people of different ethnicities in the future.  Such studies help remind people they have some control over the media they're looking at and can choose to focus on those that feature women who will make them feel more body confident.


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.