Science Proves It: Average-Size Models Can Actually Be Better for Business

Turns out models who look like customers may boost sales.

Hiring models who fit teeny-tiny sample sizes might be the long-standing norm—but recent bans on too-skinny models might actually help fashion companies in the long run, according to new research set to be published in the European Journal of Marketing.

In a series of studies, researchers from Kent Business School in the U.K. recruited hundreds of women between the ages of 18 and 25 and gave them a survey about their self-esteem. They then gave the women a packet with a fashion image, and were told to give feedback for a marketing campaign.

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The image was either from a well-established brand or a fictional one. The image was digitally manipulated to look like a size-zero model or an average-size model. (In this case, "average" was a UK 10/US 6, smaller than the national average but the typical size for a participant in the study.) Participants were asked to rate the model's attractiveness, and then rate her size based on a scale from underweight to obese. Some participants were asked their own body size, and others were also asked to rate the product being advertised.

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When it came to established brands, the participants didn't have a preference between size-zero and average-size models. But when it came to brands they hadn't heard of, they preferred average-size models, since they didn't know what ads for that brand usually look like. Participants' body sizes didn't affect ratings, but self-esteem did—women with lower self-esteem preferred images with average-sized models and rated products with those models involved higher.

"Our research shows that the fashion industry has nothing to fear from using average-sized models in its marketing campaigns, and could even find that it sells more of its products by doing so," lead researcher Xuemei Bian said in a press release.

Let's hope this is the push so many fashion brands need to take the leap into using more representative models. Beauty and body equality for all!

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