The Skinny on Why Some Consumers Prefer Thin Models

College-aged women have a greater desire for products advertised by thin models, despite the fact that these ads make the women feel self-conscious about their own appearance, according to a study conducted by Karen Becker-Olsen, assistant professor in the School of Business, and Jeremy Kees, a colleague from Villanova University.

In the study, women aged 18–24 were shown advertisements for products ranging from purses to financial services. Afterward, they were offered a free package of cookies as a thank you for participating.

Not only did the majority of the young women indicate they were more likely to purchase products advertised by thin models, but after viewing ads featuring thinner models, the women were more likely to turn down the free cookies.

In a follow-up study, the researchers found that women aged 35 and older were not as critical of their own appearance after viewing the ads with thin models, Becker-Olsen said.

“An 18 to 24 year old might see the thin model and think, ‘That could be me,” Becker-Olsen said. “The older group is likely past the point where they might see the thin model as an attainable ideal. They know they’re not going to look like the person in the ad.”

The researchers are now “closing the loop” by investigating whether using the products advertised by thin models helps to restore the self-esteem of the 18–24 year-old women, Becker-Olsen said.

Though the study is ongoing, the results have made headlines nationally. Dove, a company that has won awards for a series of ads featuring “normal-sized” models, has requested to see the final data, Becker-Olsen said.

Becker-Olsen, who teaches Consumer Behavior and Advertising Management, said the research has helped fuel discussions in her classes. “The relevance of the project excites the students,” she said.

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