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Do Plus-Size Models Contribute to the Obesity Epidemic?

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The modeling industry usually gets negative comments for having models that are too thin walking down their catwalks. Psychologists claim that these models give young girls and women an unrealistic idea of what is beautiful and what a healthy body should look like.

As a way to combat these stereotypes, advertisers and companies have started using plus-size models to promote a more positive body image. According to a study that was published in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, the inundation of these images is now contributing to the growing obesity epidemic. 

Assistant professors of marketing Lily Lin (California State University) and Brent McFerran (Simon Fraser University) call this effect “The (Ironic) Dove Effect.” That is a reference to Dove’s #RealBeauty ad campaign, which had the goal of changing the conventional idea of beauty by showing women of all shapes and sizes in their underwear. The researchers say that when heavier women are used in certain campaigns it will become socially acceptable, and people will therefore have lower motivation to exercise and do other healthy behaviors. They have conducted many experiments to prove their theory.

Obesity Epidemic

In one study, women were asked to imagine walking past a women’s clothing store while holding two photos, one was of a small body frame mannequin and the other of a larger body mannequin. Then they were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 7 statements like “I feel obese” or “overweight is normal.” The results showed that those women who were shown the larger mannequins tended to feel that obesity or being overweight was more socially acceptable.

In another study, women were given seven chocolates and shown pictures of plus-size women with different captions: “for normal women,” “for plus-size women,” and “for women.” The research showed that the women who were shown the photo “for normal women” ate the most chocolate. They said this was real-life marketing. It was the tag line that made a difference and led to consumption of unhealthy food.

Finally the researchers looked at the aspect of the plus-size women in advertising. They found that if a tax was imposed on unhealthy foods, those who accept larger body types would be strongly against it. 

It has become obvious over the years that the stick-thin models do not represent the average woman’s body type. Plus-size modeling started as a response to the sentiment against thin models. Slowly over the years, ads featuring plus-size women have increased. The average waist size for women has also increased from an 8 to 16. Researchers believe there is a correlation between the increase of plus-size models and the obesity problem in society.

Obesity Epidemic

The obesity rate is fast growing. Obesity affects more than a third of Americans. With the rise in obesity there is also a rise in the risk of acquire other health issues like type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, premature death, and heart disease. Obesity is also expensive to treat. When they total the cost, it is over $190 billion annually. 

The authors of the research paper say that there needs to be awareness placed on the type of advertising methods used. These ads make unhealthy food look appealing and drive customers to go out and buy those products.

The research concludes that it is best for the customer’s well-being for advertisers to promote and encourage images of healthy people or people of a healthy weight. The body size is just a minor issue because you can be fit at a larger size.

As consumers and the watching public, it is important that you do not get sucked in to all the glossy images and perfect models advertised. These ads are designed by professionals to look good and to make you buy it, but they are also edited so that they are more appealing. Whether they are straight-size or plus-size models, you should keep in mind that you need to follow a healthy lifestyle. Know that you do not have to be big or small, but eat healthily and keep healthy habits like exercising and spending time outdoors. Part of the problem is that the general public live very sedentary lifestyles. 

To have a balanced lifestyle, you need to eat healthy and exercise. Even 30 minutes a day of regular exercise will make improvements in your health. Your perception of health should be based on facts and not just seeing plus-size models or straight-size models in the media.

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