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Professor Brett Martin
Professor Brett Martin

Press Release - 20 September 2006

Women feel thin models are more elegant, interesting and pleasant, research shows

Thin fashion models help sell products because many women feel that putting on weight shows a lack of willpower, a new study says.

Researchers from the University of Bath found that two-thirds of women they interviewed reacted favourably to print advertisements featuring thinner female models whereas less than a third liked models of a larger size.

Those who preferred thinner models tended to believe that weight can be controlled by dieting or exercise. They tended to think the thinner models were more “elegant”, “interesting”, “likeable” and “pleasant”.

Because they much preferred the slimmer models, they were more likely to approve of the product the models was advertising, in this case food products such as up-market salad combinations and gourmet hamburgers.

The women who believed they were in control of their weight – who tended to be thinner – also were less likely to have friends who were larger women, and some of them believed that larger women were a little untrustworthy.

Those who believed that weight was not controllable – who were themselves more likely to be larger – were less likely to see the slim model as an ideal, and were less impressed with the product advertised.

The researchers interviewed 470 women undergraduates, of whom 67 per cent reacted favourably to print advertisements featuring thinner female models whereas only 29 per cent reacted favourably to models of a larger size. Those women who were thinner were more likely to believe weight could be controlled.

The study’s results come a week after the Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, warned of the dangers of girls starving themselves to emulate waif-like supermodels. Earlier this month the Madrid fashion week imposed restrictions on very thin models.

“This study shows us why using thin models is a successful strategy by advertising companies," said Professor Brett Martin, of the University of Bath’s Marketing Group in its School of Management.

“Women who believe that weight can be controlled by taking exercise and dieting believe that a thin model has succeeded in controlling her own weight and is someone they can relate to. These women tended to be thinner.

“They also believe the model to be more likeable and pleasant too – an idealised version of themselves in fact.

“The fact that the model endorses a certain product means that they feel that product must also be a good one and are more inclined to buy it.

“Women who don’t feel weight is under the control of individuals – and this view was associated with larger women – feel the model has just got lucky genetics and are less inclined to see the model as possessing more attractive psychological qualities, though they don’t favour larger models either.

“So with women who believe weight can be controlled, the thin model will work, and among women who don’t believe it can be controlled, the model size doesn’t matter.

“So the recent idea among some commentators that women will respond to models who are average size is generally not right.”

The study found:

• 72 per cent of thin women feel they have control over their own weight; 32 per cent of larger women feel this.

• 65 per cent of those women who felt they could control their weight thought the thinner model was elegant; 48 per cent of those who thought weight was genetic-determined felt this

• 57 per cent of those women who felt they could control their weight thought the thinner model was interesting; 32 per cent of those who thought weight was genetic-determined felt this

• 60 per cent of those women who felt they could control their weight thought the thinner model was likeable; 47 per cent of those who thought weight was genetic-determined felt this

• 64 per cent of those women who felt they could control their weight thought the thinner model was pleasant; 56 per cent of those who thought weight was genetic-determined felt this

• 50 per cent of those women who felt they could control their weight said they did not have many friends who were larger women; 43 per cent of those who thought weight was genetic-determined felt this

• 17 per cent of those women who felt they could control their weight agreed that “I really don’t like fat people much”; 13 per cent of those who thought weight was genetic-determined felt this

• 67 per cent of those women who felt they could control their weight agreed that “fat people tend to be fat pretty much through their own fault”; 45 per cent of those who thought weight was genetic-determined felt this

• 12 per cent of those women who felt they could control their weight agreed that “fat people were a little untrustworthy”; 7 per cent of those who thought weight was genetic-determined felt this.


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