A study by business professors at Villanova University and the College of New Jersey - inspired by Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" - shows that ads featuring thin models made women feel worse about themselves, but better about the brands featured.
Apparently, seeing thin models also made college-age women far more likely to turn down cookies offered as thanks for their participation in the study, or to opt for a reduced-fat version. (Women who had just seen thin models were nearly four times more likely to say no to Oreos than women who hadn't, and 42% more likely to opt for reduced-fat cookies if they did indulge.)
- Women in a sample of 194 college students aged 18-24 expressed more negative feelings about their sexual attractiveness, weight and physical condition after seeing thin models than before.
- So-called high self-monitoring women, or those more concerned about what others think of their appearance, were the most negatively affected by seeing the thin models in the study.
"The really interesting result we're seeing across multiple studies is that these thin models make women feel bad, but they like it," said Jeremy Kees, a business professor at Villanova. "They have higher evaluation of the brands. With the more regular-size models, they don't feel bad. Their body image doesn't change. But in terms of evaluations of the brands, those are actually lower."
Mr. Kees acknowledged the findings create something of a quandary for marketers, who might have a positive effect on young women's self-esteem by showing more typical women in ads, but suffer in the marketplace as a result.