Just when the door to inclusiveness was starting to crack open for full-figured women, scientists want to go and find reason why plus-size models should be locked in a vault and never seen again — lest everyone become morbidly obese.
In a twisted study published by the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, researchers looking at the increasing use of plus-sized models in advertising campaigns determined their prevalence is a contributing factor to growing rates of obesity. How did they come to that conclusion? According to Science Daily: “The researchers conducted five experiments to see how subjects would react to cues suggesting that obesity was acceptable. In each instance the subjects displayed a greater intended or actual consumption of unhealthy food and a reduced motivation to engage in a healthier lifestyle, driven by an increased belief that obesity was more socially acceptable.”
That finding has been labeled the ironic dove effect as a reference to the popular Dove #realbeauty campaigns which featured ethnically diverse women of all shapes and sizes.
“One reason why being larger-bodied may appear to be contagious is that as it is seen as more socially permissible, individuals exhibit lower motivation to engage in healthy behaviors and consume greater portions of unhealthy food,” wrote study authors Brent McFerran, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Beedie School of Business, and Lily Lin, Ph.D., an assistant professor at California State University. “Usage of larger body types [in advertising] increases unhealthy behaviors.”
So should we go back — sorry continue — to only show wafer-thin white models and pretend like obesity wasn’t an issue before fuller figured women got more shine on runways and in magazine spreads? Not exactly. See the study authors also found those images didn’t have a positive effect on weight control either.
“Although this study demonstrates that accepting larger bodies is associated with negative consequences, research also shows that ‘fat-shaming’ -or stigmatizing such bodies — fails to improve motivation to lose weight,” said McFerran.
“Since neither accepting nor stigmatizing larger bodies achieves the desired results, it would be beneficial for marketers and policy makers to instead find a middle ground — using images of people with a healthy weight, and more importantly, refraining from drawing attention to the body size issue entirely.”
Or we could all take responsibility for our own health and stop looking to magazines to tell us whether our body shape is en vogue, let alone healthy.
Around 2006 was when obesity started to become a national health issue, with the CDC finding, on average, adults at that time weighed 26 more pounds than they did in 1950. Nine years ago, fat-shaming wasn’t even a thing. It was socially acceptable to ostracize people who were overweight (much like it still is today) and there certainly wasn’t a body positivity movement; there were barely even any stores to find full-figure clothing, and yet our waist lines continued to expand. It couldn’t possibly be the rise in fast food, the increase in food deserts, and inactive lifestyles that led men and women to gain pounds. No, this study would like us to believe that if you show a woman with back fat hanging out from underneath her 40 DDD bra in an ad campaign, suddenly women are going to go home and scarf down two burrritos from Chipotle and say f-ck it. Sorry, not buying it. This sounds more like conspiracy theory and an excuse to continue to shame women for not fitting into the unrealistic beauty images we claim to want to combat than it does any type of scientific discovery.