Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Does skinny sell?

By Chloe Angyal

Interesting article out of Australia today:

It is a central tenet of advertising that thin models sell more products. The only trouble is, it may not be true.

In the first empirical research into the question undertaken in Australia, health psychologists have found young people's response to an ad, and their willingness to consider buying what it promotes, is exactly the same whether the featured model is catwalk-slender or of a more average body shape.

The study marks the first time in Australia that psychologists have sought to measure objectively how people's response to models translates into buying behaviour, and follows last month's proposal by Kate Ellis, the federal Minister for Youth, of a code of conduct for magazines, requiring them to show models who were not abnormally thin and to disclose the use of digitally altered images.

I like this last idea the best. Imagine how much progress we could make towards loving our bodies as they are if we weren't constantly being told that, if we just worked hard enough, wanted it bad enough, and bought enough stuff, we could look like the airbrushed and photo-shopped models we see in magazines.

And while this last bit seems kind of obvious to me, it's nice to have some empirical evidence to back it up:

When asked further questions designed to assess their own body satisfaction immediately after viewing the draft ads, the women completing the survey, who were aged 18 to 25, felt better about themselves if they had been shown the images of larger models, compared with those who saw the slim models.

That's because the average American woman is a size 10-12 (see photo below), and the average model is a size 0-2 (see photo above). And of course, never seeing yourself reflected in the mass media is going to make you feel like crap. So there's an argument for making people feel comfortable and accepted if you want to sell them a product (or, if you just want people to feel comfortable and accepted, which sounds like a pretty good idea to me).

Of course, fashion is aspirational - it's about selling a lifestyle, not just selling clothes - and you may sell more clothes by selling the idea of what someone could be (skinny and therefore "attractive," and worthwhile) rather than selling them something that reflects who actually are (not skinny by industry standards, no less attractive and definitely still worthwhile). And of course, if you convince someone that they're deficient (i.e. fat and therefore worthless), and that your product is the only thing that can fix their condition, you're going to make a profit. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, but you're going to make a profit.

And of course, some of the average American women who are size 10-12 are overweight, but many of them are simply sitting at their healthy, natural genetic set point and won't suffer any health consequences for being there. And there's something really sick about millions of women, many of whom can never healthily attain a size 0 or 2, spending hours every day and thousands of dollars every year trying to be something they'll never be.

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