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

Turns out models who look like customers may boost sales.

Plus-Size Model
(Image credit: Getty Images)

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.

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.

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!

Megan Friedman

Megan Friedman is the former managing editor of the Newsroom at Hearst. She's worked at NBC and Time, and is a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.