Makes perfect sense that if you’re overweight, looking at photos of extremely thin models might deflate your self-esteem. But according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, looking at models of any size is a bad idea if you’re on the wrong side of the scale.
The study examined shifts in self-esteem among overweight and underweight women when exposed to advertising photographs of various sized models. When underweight women viewed photos of overweight or thin models, they felt better about themselves. When overweight women looked at the same photos, they felt worse.
Presumably this is because underweight women compare themselves equally to thin models and favorably to overweight models, but overweight women compare themselves unfavorably to thin models and find their similarity to overweight models depressing.
Quoting one of the study authors:
“Underweight women’s self-esteem always increases, regardless of the model they look at…On the other hand, overweight women’s self-esteem always decreases, regardless of the model they look at.”
But here’s the rub: before looking at any of the ad photos, overweight and underweight women’s self-esteem was roughly the same. Exposure to the photos made all the difference.
Besides giving us another reason to consider really thin people an aberration of nature, I think this study has an important message: not only is advertising the unreality industry, it’s also the make-you-feel-bad-about-yourself industry for anyone not in the sanctified portion of the BMI scale (which is most of us).
Skip the Cosmo, you’ll feel better about yourself in the morning.