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Thursday, Sep. 4, 2008 at 6:15 am

Do Ultra Thin Models Sell More Clothes?

By Holly Buchanan
September 4th, 2008


It’s an important and disturbing question.¬†¬† There have been several studies done that show the negative effect of all these anorexic models on women’s self-esteem.¬†But do those super skinny models actually sell more clothes?

Heather Strang at has a fascinating article on the subject.¬† Here’s a sample:

Jeremy Kees, a business professor at Villanova had this quote to share: “The really interesting result we’re seeing across multiple studies is that these thin models make women feel bad, but they like it. 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.”

Personally, I don’t think Jeremy knows what he’s talking about, but it’s worth exploring. Why would something that makes us feel bad also motivate us to buy? We may need a panel of psychologists to figure this one out. Ultimately, though it puts retailers in a position where they can’t win.

I’d like to learn more about the study that found women have a “higher evaluation” of brands that use these thin models.¬†¬†¬† I’m not saying I disagree, but I’d like more details.¬†¬† Since the top fashion houses are the biggest offenders with these size negative 2 models, perhaps women associate this look with high-end designer clothing.¬† I don’t know.

What do you think?

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Comments (12)

  1. I don’t particularly find ads with ultra-thin models appealing. I am definitely drawn more to ads featuring models with some hips and breasts. I don’t expect them to look normal, no fashion house is going to hire a size 8 girl to promote clothes that aren’t manufactured only to size 12 or 14. However, why show the clothes on a model that looks really nothing like a normal woman? My expectations aren’t that high to begin with, but the models could at least look more like women than pre-pubescent boys.

  2. My apologies- ARE manufactured only to size 12 or 14.

  3. I think you’re on to something with the biggest offenders being the high-end design houses. On the other side of the scale (pun intended), the “big girl” section of the department store has traditionally been filled with low quality, unfashionable clothes made out of cheap polyester. The association between bigger models and crappy quality may not be accurate, but it’s already in our heads.

  4. I thin-k you hit the nail on the head with association with higher fashion. Thinner model means more prestigious brand/store. There’s high fashion, “runway” models, “local” models (department store catalogs, for example), men’s magazine models, and they all have different looks and bodies. Runway models don’t sell lingerie, local and men’s mag models don’t sell Prada.

    Personally I think that’s messed up, but if people realized how much of their opinions and preferences have been shaped by culture – and we have the nerve to make fun of cultures (past and present) that favor different traits like the Incas who liked cross-eyed gals with big noses. The young girls would wear a headband with a bead hanging in the middle, so they would stare at the bead and it would help them go cross-eyed.

    That kinda girl would have sold a lot of maize and cacao, a waif would not!

  5. The problem with polls and studies being done about “how women react” is that there often seems to be an underlying assumption that it’s somehow set in stone, that women are somehow genetically programmed to react to these starvation victims.

    The truth is exactly what @Linda Bustos says: that which women’s bodily shapes are considered attractive is culturally-based, and has changed dramatically just since the 1950′s, and even more if you look back hundreds of years.

    By only focusing on the size of the model, you leave out entirely the entire creative range of expression of how retailers could speak to/with women.

    When retailers point to simple-minded studies like that, they are abdicating responsibility for the culture they are helping to shape with their millions of dollars in marketing. I don’t believe hiding behind “well, that’s what women want, what can we do?” relieves them of the responsibility to find ways to speak to women without contributing to the alarming level of eating disorders and other health problems, such as binge dieting, that their models have helped to create.

    Can you tell I feel strongly about this? :)

  6. Being only 26, I was very much so attracted to the skinny “pre-pubescent boy” type body. Then as I got older I formed my own opinions about wanting curvier women, purely because of what I felt when I was with them.

    It would be interesting to see if women buy more clothes from skinnier models simply because they subconsciously aspire to the perceived lifestyle (glam, prestige, rich men, value in others eyes). My theory is that “normal” looking models might be too close to home and therefore, subconsciously women aren’t jealous of their perceived lifestyle. Of course all of this is based on perception, and obviously is not the TRUE reality, but when is good marketing about fact and logic anyway.

  7. The reason the best thing on TV is Mad Men is because the sexiest women on there are real sizes. I don’t think they sell more clothes, but then I’m from a culture where healthy sized women are adored. It seems like you can sell more clothes to people if they fit, and that it can be done without promoting obesity.

    If ultra-thin models sell more clothes, there are so many neighboring industries complicit in this deception that it’s not even funny.

  8. well you know this issue is very bad for our society this is not good, that all skinny models are not realizing how beautiful they are in and out and by not eating, its ugly to be very very skinny so why would u skip out on food? I mean it’s like the best! SPECIALLY ICE CREAM!

  9. personally i do NOT want to buy the clothes a heavier model wears. i would much rather buy clothes from the companies who have waif models wearing their outfits. heavier women to not appeal to most of the demographics the clothing companies are trying to appeal to. young girls want to be thin, and look like kate moss and not like jessica simpson.

  10. Interesting idea, but I think the women who are buying these clothes can’t be buying them because they make us feel bad. I think it’s because we want to look thinner and see the models in the clothes looking thin. I am not going to buy something so it will make me feel bad.

  11. great games best games games video.

  12. Ok, maybe this is totally off the wall…What if the women are more likely to buy because they see these thin models and think, I can get thin, diet, excersice look good and then fit into these clothes? Maybe the thin models motivate women and then they purchase their dream clothing. Something they want to fit into when they do infact become thin.

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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