The Downside To Plus-Size

Size does matter, especially in the world of fashion. This week, we reported that Australian department store Myer would be introducing larger mannequins and Selfridges reported 50% uptick in sales of larger bra sizes, including the two-year-old K cup. It seems that ever since Glamour put curvy model Lizzie Miller in their September issue, designers seem to be making gestures towards the non-emaciated consumer.

But what is the effect of all of this plus-sized plus-size buzz? Many believe it is long past due for the fashion industry to celebrate a multitude of body types, but whether or not such a revolution could work in an industry so reliant on physical appearance remains unclear. Is the plus-size movement here to stay? Or will it grow stale quickly, like the oversized hardware on last season’s Balenciaga bags?

Even if designers were genuine in their desires to please an array of body types, what positive effect, if any, would that have on the consumer? Would women see these campaigns and feel okay about their extra pounds? Would women want to begin gaining weight, going back to a more Rubenesque and full-figured aesthetic? Would we start believing that bigger is beautiful?

Arizona State University, the University of Cologne, and Erasmus University conducted studies to answer some of these questions. The goal was to see the effect of the increased visibility of the plus-size model.

Naomi Mandel, marketing associate professor of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, found:

“[I]t is unlikely that many brands will gain market share by using heavy models in their ads. We found that overweight consumers demonstrated lower self-esteem, and therefore probably less enthusiasm about buying products after exposure to any size models in ads…Also, normal-weight consumers experienced lower self-esteem after exposure to moderately heavy models, such as those in Dove soap’s ‘Real Women’ campaign, than after exposure to moderately thin models.”

While the study confirmed the seemingly obvious fact that exposure to emaciated women leads to warped perception of body image, the study also showed that it “is not just the size of the models in the ads, but the relative distance between the consumer’s size and the model’s size that affects self-esteem.”

Furthermore:

“…[I]f a normal-size woman sees moderately heavy images in ads for weight-loss products, she might feel overweight and be more inclined to buy a diet plan or gym membership. The same premise could apply to using heavy images in public service announcements aimed at fighting the obesity epidemic.”

Plus-size model and future Glamour cover girl, Crystal Renn, spoke out against the study, claiming that “women are hungry for this [change]. They are empowered by this.”

Truth be told, there’s a danger anytime there is only one ideal of beauty. While some feel that ever body type deserves a fold in next month’s Vogue, until plus-size becomes simply another size, based on this study, we’re a long way off from getting this right.

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