Women More Likely to Buy Clothes When Models Look Like Them

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.


a             y m.
g d c5 years ago

different clothes look diferent onn different shapes...
have to start with the designers!!!

Holly D.
Holly R7 years ago

They just now figured that out?

Robyn O.
Robyn O7 years ago

What does a size 14 mean? When I was a 14, my measurements were 34-26-36. Obviously that size now is perceived to be more like 60-50-80, from what people write on the internet. What a joke! No one can tell just from looking at someone what size they wear, size is a three-dimensional construct not for a flat paper doll. I've studied patternmaking and you'd be surprised just how small 14 still is. And if you're 5'8" should you wear the same size as someone who is 5 feet tall? Size numbers should actually be shifted upward, as there really cannot be a size 0 or even a 2. It's all appealing to the vanity of women developing over the last 40 years, just to sell the trashy junk offered over that time (e.g., miniskirts, low-rise jeans, skin-tight thin fabric tee shirts, "hoodies", jackets too small to be buttoned with sleeves that are practically painted on, leopard skin prints -- all cheap junk priced too high and mistakenly called "designer" wear. The rag trade has done all its homework ... maybe. What is their next size down? Minus 10? Maybe when real style returns to fashion will common sense regarding sizes return.

Emma S.
Emma S7 years ago

Quelle surprise!

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

Well, that's a no brainer. Thing is, granted if the average woman is a size 12-14, why have models who wear size 0 and look size 2? So if the average woman is a size 12, the average model should be a size 8-10. Seriously. I think then, clothing stores would be making more money, and then because "looking good" is more attainable, more "normal" women would try to lose enough to be the size 10.

It is true that when you throw stick figures at everyone, and make it seem as if 2 is the norm, that more women have eating disorders, including over eating because the grossly thin is not attainable.

Jane R.
Jane R7 years ago

Clothing ads and the photos should be of average people with different shapes. When you see fashion models wearing nice dresses, slacks etc. they looks so good, but when you put the same article of clothing on, it looks like shit on you.
Advertisers should wake up and use real people with real bodies. Stop with the air brushing of photos to make the models look like they have the "perfect" body. We want to see how clothes will look on the average woman. Who ever heard of the average woman wearing a size 14? I think that's a little large. Most women I see look smaller than that.

Kate Florio
Kate F7 years ago

i have two thoughts: linda and angela
linda - i had a good friend, named linda, who was close to 300 lbs at the time, at least as far as could infer. SHE KNEW HOW TO WEAR CLOTHES!!! this woman ALWAYS LOOKED SHARP!!! if i were her weight and build, I WOULD SHOP AT HER FAVORITE STORES!!!!!

angela - a. lansbury, in murder she wrote, had a 'proportional' figure, and she knew how to wear clothes that flattered it. at the time i was watching the show every chance i got, i was about her size and weight, as far as i could see. because she looked so good, I WENT TO DILLARDS TO GET SOME CLOTHES JUST LIKE THEM!!! i didn't find any because my style is so different, but believe me, i looked!!!


Lindy E.
Belinda E7 years ago

Deb S, you're missing the point. First of all, the fact that a women is larger than professional models does not mean she's fat. In fact, models are WAY below the acceptable weight for their height, and starve themselves to keep their jobs. So we should not try to emulate them, any more than we should indulge and become fat.
But second, and more to the point of the article, is that the fashion industry is a business, and businesses are all about making money. This article simply points out that by stubbornly adhering to a rediculous standard for their models, they are losing customers and therefore losing money.

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

Well, duh, indeed. When I look at a model or a mannequin in a store, I want to know what the clothing looks like draped over a real body, not a stick figure. I've taken to pitching the clothing store flyers out without even looking at them, as I know that nothing in them is designed for me...

Deb S.
Deb Swenson7 years ago

Models may be too thin but more important is the problem of obesity in this country and others. Being tolerant of others' food addictions and accepting their not depriving themselves is ignorant. Its not dieting its eating right and PORTION CONTROL and eating healthy foods. Sadly upsizing is adding to diabetes and a burden to our health care system. Plus size is an unhealthy weight and BMI- do you care about living a healthy long life or just need to eat all that food so you don't deprive yourself? Think about it.