When Fat Women Prefer Thin Models

Ask QuestionsIn a conversation I was having today, several of us were talking about our frustration with stores that sell plus-sized clothing but don’t use plus-sized models (and by “plus-sized models” I mean models who wear actual plus sized clothes – preferably models in all the sizes that the clothing comes in, but definitely someone who could actually wear the clothes in real life, the idea being that seeing the clothes on the model should give us some idea how the clothes might look on us, rather than showing us how they would look on thin women while being gathered at the back with industrial sized clips.)

As often happens in these conversations, someone brought up the fact that there is research that shows that plus-sized women bought more clothes when they were advertised on a “straight sized” model than on an actual plus-sized model.  The person who brought it up acted as though that was the end of the conversation.  I think it’s just the beginning.

According to a controversial study from Arizona State University:

“We found that overweight consumers demonstrated lower self-esteem – and therefore probably less enthusiasm about buying products – after exposure to any size models in ads (versus ads with no models). Also, normal-weight consumers experienced lower self-esteem after exposure to moderately heavy models, such as those in Dove soap’s ‘Real Women’ campaign, than after exposure to moderately thin models.”

Here’s my question:  Do you think it just might, maybe, possibly be because we have been so aggressively sold the idea that there is only one body type that is “beautiful”/worthy to be seen, that we’ve started to believe it, and so as a culture when we see someone outside of the single image of beauty that we are sold  99.999999999% of the time we experience a conditioned response and immediately think “That’s a bad body.  That body is wrong.  My body is like that. My body is wrong.”?

Instead of looking at this study, asking the question that I asked, and pondering their culpability in the situation, what I see the media and advertisers and clothing companies doing is hiding behind the study and continuing to perpetuate their singular idea of beauty on the grounds that we like it better, which continues to reinforce that any body outside of that ideal is somehow unworthy of being seen, which means that we like the “ideal” more, and like our own bodies less.  Especially in a world where we almost never see an image that has not been so “retouched” that it is a completely impossible standard of beauty. Does this seem like a good idea to you?  I think it’s pretty much crap.  If we want things to change, then we’re going to have to get it done ourselves, which I think includes insisting that the stores that want us to give them our fat money put their clothes on fat models.

In the meantime, here are some things that we can do for ourselves:

Seek out pictures of bodies of all sizes, look at them every day.  Find things about them that you like. Start to really look around you at the diversity of bodies that exist, and appreciating that diversity.  I think that the ability to appreciate all kinds of bodies is a skill that, in most of us, is left under-developed because society tries to convince us that beauty is singular and objective.

Decide, right now, that you are above putting down other bodies to make you feel better about yours (even if you only think it), or for any other reason.  Start to notice any time you think anything negative about anyone’s body and stop yourself and replace it with a positive thought.  Refuse to participate in body snarking with other people.  Be the change.

Find ways to love your own body.  If you want some help check out Love Your Body More in Three Simple Steps

Want some places to start looking at beautiful bodies of all sizes?  Check these out for a start:

I have a gallery of my own pictures on this site.

The Adipositivity Project (NSFW)

VoluptuArt has amazing pieces to look at and buy.  I have done both and I love the stuff.  (Nope, they don’t give me anything to say that, they most likely have no idea who I am)

This post (check the comments for lots of amazing pictures of fat people doing awesome stuff from belly dancing to hammer throwing).

These videos:

As always, if you know of others please add them in the comments.

Our thin-obsessed culture makes it easy to believe the lie that some bodies are better than other bodies, but it’s still a lie, and we don’t have to be duped into believing it.

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24 thoughts on “When Fat Women Prefer Thin Models

  1. Thank you for saying it as it is. I am often baffled why people making studies like this, who are considered “scientists” (I thought that comes with intelligence) often don’t see the simplest things, in this case that we are conditioned to see bodies that way, and not that we are born to like thin bodies.

    One activism opportunity I did once, but should do more often: I once actually wrote to the customer service of a plus size mailorder and asked them and encouraged them to show more diversity and to show the clothes on models of all sizes, and not just the typical plus-size model who is always at the lowest range of the available sizes. I also encouraged them to show more race and age diversity, too. I got a really nice response, and since then they had some special photoshoots showing the clothes on actual “real” customers in different sizes at least. The general models are still the same, but at least there was some small progress 🙂
    So maybe that could be a good idea: If many of us now and then write to shops, mailorders and such to tell them what we want: More diversity! Then they can hardly hide behind such studies, because customers tell them first hand what they wish to see…

    1. That’s true, did you see the article where babies prefer fat bodies to thin ones? 🙂 Trigger warning for the author calling fat “unattractive” and making typical “anti-obesity conclusions”. 😦 http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/seriouslyscience/2013/06/04/do-babies-know-the-difference-between-a-beer-gut-and-a-six-pack-and-do-they-care/#.Vb9xHflViko
      That was a great thing for you to do! I want to design pretty, cute plus size mannequins for clothing stores to put in their windows! 🙂

      1. Whoa! I just read that. It’s bad enough when writers use silly euphemisms to avoid using the word “fat,” to describe us, but now they’re coming straight out and saying “attractive body type,” vs. “unattractive body type.”

        They did this throughout the entire piece, with the only exception being once when they said “attractive or athletic.”

        WHAT THE HECK?!

        And they said that babies prefer unattractive male body types, “perhaps because that’s what they’re more familiar with at home (take that, parents whose babies participated in the study!). ”

        “Take that”?! What?

        Talk about slanted reporting. Why don’t you just punch us in the face, Seriously Science? It would be just a smidgen more subtle.

        I’ve known for years that babies prefer fat bodies. It’s because we are softer and more comfortable. Babies don’t want to be held by someone with rock-hard muscles. They want to be held by someone soft and cozy. That’s why we stuff their teddies with cotton fibers, and not with bricks.

        Why do they have a preference at 9 months, but not at 3.5 months? Well, because they are LOOKING AT PICTURES! They can’t see the difference before that age, so they do not show a preference for one picture over the other. It doesn’t matter if the pictures of body types have the original faces, blurred out faces, or smiley faces pasted on. To a very young baby, it’s just blobs and shapes, anyway. It’s not recognizable as a person, until they age up a bit.

        I wish I had not read that article. I just want to go yell, now.

        1. Yeah, I totally agree that the reporting was terrible! Typical mainstream science article! 😦 You’re right that babies’ vision isn’t really clear for the first few months. I just thought the (purely data-wise) outcome of the experiment was pretty cool, that babies prefer fat bodies, but I guess I don’t need a biased study to tell me that we are softer and easier to hug 🙂 I love the brick analogy, hope you don’t mind if I re-use it! 😀

        2. I also think that babies don’t like boney bodies, since they are liable to poke you. I think we are pre-wired to prefer fat and soft bodies, and this whole “thin is in” has to be taught.

          1. Fat and soft bodies are certainly more cuddly, and babies are pre-wired to like cuddly.

            As for sexual preferences, I believe that they are actually individual, and that by the time you age up enough to be aware of sexual preferences, individuality has already kicked in. However, so has social pressure.

            There have been times throughout history, in different cultures and locations, when fat was in, and the preferred model of both male and female “beauty.” It usually happens in places where food is not plentiful (fat = wealthy), but it also happens in places where food is plentiful, but power is at play.

            I remember a Samoan friend telling me that a Samoan king, long ago, had a preference for fat women, and he PROCLAIMED that fat women were the most beautiful, and the men started actively pursuing fat women to marry, in order to achieve higher social status, and the women started eating more, in order to become more attractive, according to the king’s ruling.

            Many people who actively prefer fat partners are flat-out afraid to admit it, because the fat-shaming doesn’t only shame the fat body, but the person who prefers that fat body.

            So, yeah, everyone has their individual preferences, regardless of what society says, but what they say about their preferences, and how they act on those preferences, is taught by society, certainly. “Thin is in”? It’s all about fashion, right there in that little sentence. “In.” It’s not a sweeping moral judgement; it’s all about fashion, and what is popular at the moment.

            I just told my mother about this study, and she agrees with me that the scientists who did it might be smart, but they don’t have much sense.

            1. I do remember hearing about those cultures where fat was the cultural ideal of beauty, such as historical Japan, Hawaii and Samoa 🙂 It would have been cool to live there for a different perspective 🙂

    2. The marketing firms who typically conduct studies like the ones showing consumers are less likely to buy after being exposed to fat models are not at all interested in morals or values, or even the why of it past the very mechanical. Consumers prefer X, so you must do X to increase your sales—period, which is probably why advertisements have preyed on our insecurities forever, from “often a bridesmaid, never a bride—even your best friend won’t tell you”(both breath freshener campaigns), the cigarette ads that reassure you you’re a Real Man if you smoke their brand, “feminine deodorant” (shudder), etc—advertisers want you money, and your happiness only insofar as it makes you give them more money. Letting companies have a dissenting opinion is great, voting with your wallet is great. Good work!

      1. The marketing firms… are not at all interested in morals or values, or even the why of it past the very mechanical.

        I’m actually going to disagree with this. They SAY that they are only interested in sales, but the facts are that they commission biased studies that get results that support their marketing tactics. The thing is, marketing execs are human and so there is absolutely no way that their personal morals and values aren’t influencing what “facts” they use to convince their clients to use their preferred marketing tactics (see also: law makers, business owners, scientists, etc).

        And, I mean, I’m not going to say that preying on (and creating) insecurities won’t drive sales, but–despite what the marketing execs want their clients to believe–studies like the one talked about in this article are far from measurements of objective reality. The facts are that no one study, no matter how big the sample sizes, how well the variables are controlled, etc etc. should be seen as a reliable source. At best, it’s a jumping point for more studies into the matter.

        I’m sorry for the lecture, but the only thing that continuing to recite these tired old tropes (another one of my, ahem, favorites is the “sex sells” BS to excuse rank misogyny) as “fact” does is give them legitimacy that they don’t deserve.

  2. Wouldn’t plus-sized women almost have to buy more clothes when they’re advertised on a “straight” sized model? If you don’t know how the clothes look on your body, you have to buy more of them in the hopes that something will work, right? A lot of crap social “science” “research” is crap because it glosses over reality.

  3. I think this is vitally important and it confuses me when others can’t see it. I mean, its obvious! I still struggle from time to time with my body and appearance. Luckily I have an awesome bodyfriend who loves my body and when I get upset because I fell like I am letting myself down for not being smaller, he reminds me that I eat relatively well and workout regularly. That I don’t smoke, rarely drink and live a pretty healthy lifestyle. He reminds me that taking care of and loving my body is important. The size and shape of my body is not.

  4. Women En Large— nude photographs of fat women.

    Just checking one large-size company I’d heard of, I find that Junonia uses plus-sized models, though I don’t think they have models for the top end of their size range.

  5. “Beauty Diversity and Healthy Body Image” is a great FaceBook group by Fatima Parker. People of all sizes, cultures, and abilities celebrated here in a collection of pictures. I review it daily, just to make sure I am exposed to beauty diversity. I find it keeps me level-headed and my perceptions of beauty have expanded wonderfully!

  6. Thanks Ragen for all the picture links! I get images from Google, meticulously picking out the positive, “headful”, non-judgmental pictures! 🙂 I would really like to share my collection, is there a website you recommend? I am considering Sta.sh or Photobucket. Alternately I could post them to my blog 🙂
    If you’re looking for clip art, these are all very good 😀 http://www.uconnruddcenter.org/image-library

  7. But if we don’t feel bad about our bodies, there’s a kinds of products that we’ll never buy!

    Thank you for you body positive messages ragen – such a breath of fresh air in an environment full of body-hate based marketing.

  8. Gah, it drives me nuts when plus-size clothes are shown on thin models! You know that clothespins and safety pins are the only things holding those garments on. It is not in any way an accurate representation of how the clothes will look on an actual customer. That’s why I don’t buy from Woman Within or Roaman’s. Companies should take a cue from Torrid and Igigi, they show their clothes on larger ladies and they’re super cute! Granted, even those models tend to be around a 12-14-16, but at least those are sizes that the company actually makes. I can see how the clothes are supposed to fit.

  9. It just this moment occurred to me a really important reason to use fat models to show off large-size clothing:


    “Straight” size models have a particular shape, including flat stomach, often a flat chest, and/or a flat rear.

    Fat women tend to be, shall we say, lumpy. I have large breasts, and a belly that is visible between them, when I look down. I have a bottom that sticks out a bit, because it is bodacious.

    Clothes that hang nicely on a straight size model will NOT hang the same way on me. Clothes that are designed for a straight size model, and then simply sized up will look downright weird on me. The hem will NEVER be straight, but will be higher in the front, because of my belly. The tunics that hang around a straight sized model’s hips will be partly-hippy, and partly just under my belly, and the lines just are NOT horizontal. They’re always skewed.

    The skew issue can, of course, be fixed by the designer who take shape into account in the first place. Then, if they put those fat-designed clothes on thin bodies, and pull it back behind the model with clothes pins, it’s going to look… SKEWED! All over again!

    We need models of the actual customers who would be wearing these clothes. In fact, I think it would be awesome to take ACTUAL CUSTOMERS, who have previously bought from the store, and offer them the chance to model the next season’s clothes. Think of the PR opportunities there! Real diversity, reflecting the real world and the real customers, as well as incentive for new customers to purchase, and enter the drawing/lotto/whatever they use to choose next season’s models. It could be spun into a really positive advertising campaign, while simultaneously giving prospective customers the knowledge that the clothes are being modeled by the people who would actually buy and wear them, out in public, sans clothespins, and that is how it would actually look. We’d have a much better idea of how the clothes would look on ourselves.

    As for that “self-esteem” study, I bet you that if you knew you, as a random clothes-shopper, had the opportunity to model clothes in the future, just because you bought some clothes now, your self-esteem would soar!

    And as long as I’m dreaming, I want a trip to Disney World, and a pony.

  10. I copied this from a blog that my friend sent me. I think it’s so true.


    I’ve been looking for upcycled muumuu designs hoping to get some inspiration for spring/summer projects, but instead of finding the work of other fat babes IT’S ALL SKINNY WOMEN. AHHHHH.

    I’m sure that most of you are aware of the muumuu–a light, flowy dress designed for the comfort of plus-sized folks during the hot spring/summer months. They’re pretty shapeless and unflattering, but they’re comfortable and usually in really pretty patterns. The muumuu is a classic for fat people, and as such it’s stigmitized heavily and associated with laziness and being unfashionable.

    Some fat folks, myself included, buy muumuus and other plus-sized clothing at thrift stores because it’s damn near impossible to find a store that sells new clothes in bigger sizes IRL. (And plus-sized clothing is much more expensive than “regular sized” clothing.)

    What these women are doing is taking clothing away from people who are already finding it hard to dress themselves (poor fat people), while also reinforcing the anti-fat stigma associated with muumuus.

    EVERY.SINGLE. “before” photograph where the seamstress was wearing the unaltered muumuu included a smarmy “oh my god this dress is so big and ugly and i’m so tiny and pretty isn’t this funny aren’t i charming” face. A few of them even had multiple women wearing the “before” dress at the same time.

    Like…what the fuck? Can you at least attempt to hide your derision for fat people while you further limit our options?

  11. The argument of “low self-esteem” is sooo hypocrite. Like, it is an actual business model to lower women’s self-esteem to sell it back with a discount (your amazing words <3), it's what women magazine do over and over again, and suddently, when visible fat bodies are at stake, it's an issue ?

  12. I ran a petition in college about this issue and got almost 100 signatures. the amazing thing was that the signers were of all sizes and all objected to the size 0 models. I recommend “Making It Big” for plus clothes on plus models–their models range from size 14 to 24 and they all look beautiful! That is an awesome feeling.

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