New research from a Cambridge University Ph.D student shows that not only is it more ethical to have models who aren’t rail-thin, it actually makes more economic sense. Women, unsurprisingly, are more likely to buy clothes that were modeled on women who look like them. According to Ben Barry, who for his dissertation research conducted a survey of 3,000 women across the U.S., United Kingdom and Canada:
“The vast majority of women significantly increase purchase intentions when they see a model that reflects their age, size and race. If you speak to consumers on the street about my research, nobody is surprised – consumers are light years ahead of the fashion industry in that they want to see diversity.”
This could have significant implications for the way that the fashion industry projects an ideal which really doesn’t look like many women. And the research also points out the fact that having lighter-skinned models, which is often another topic of complaint, may not help sell clothes either. The question of age is also interesting, although it’s rare to see older models outside of skin care ads.
But even though there have been more “plus-size” fashion models on runways of late, there is still debate over whether the fashion industry’s idea of “plus-size” reflects a true spectrum of the diversity in women’s bodies. In a piece for Care2 last week, Ximena Ramirez analyzed an interview with Crystal Renn, one of the most famous “plus-size” models. Renn says that she is caught in an impossible bind, since “plus-size,” for modeling agencies, means a size 10, when the average woman in the United States is a size 14.
There’s also the question of whether the advertising industry, which “thrives on aspiration,” according to print specialist Douglas McCabe, is interested in projecting more realistic images of female beauty. But the economic arguments may win out.
“We’ve always used curvy models in the magazine, but it used to be that every six or eight weeks we’d do a ‘shape special’,” said the editor of the fashion magazine Look. “But about five months ago I started using curvy models every week. The response was unbelievable. I’ve never had anything like it on a magazine.”
Although, as the inteview with Renn points out, there are obvious problems with the way that we conceptualize “plus-size” models, these are all steps in the right direction. But of course, we’ll know that we’ve truly made progress when magazines and runways don’t see having a “curvy” model as an unusual occurrence.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.