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Press release

  • 18 October 2006

Thin models do not sell better, according to new research

Ultra-thin models are failing to impress female audiences according to new research from a University of Sussex academic, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Despite advertisers defending the use of ultra-thin models by saying that thinness sells, research conducted by Sussex's Dr Helga Dittmar and Dr Emma Halliwell from the University of the West Of England suggests that models do not have to be ultra-thin to be effective at selling products.

While previous research has established that ultra-thin models have a negative impact on body image for many girls and women , until now no study has investigated alternative images that could be used effectively in advertising.

In a project involving 800 women, Dr Dittmar and Dr Halliwell compared the impact of viewing adverts featuring ultra-thin models, typically dress size eight, with adverts featuring models with a dress size 14, which represents both a healthy body weight as well as the average UK dress size. They found that women who already wanted to change their appearance were particularly susceptible to being affected by viewing ultra-thin models and reported increased negative emotions about their own bodies after exposure. In contrast, viewing average-size models did not have a negative effect on women's body image, compared with exposure to neutral, appearance-unrelated images.

Dr Dittmar, a reader in Psychology at Sussex: says: "These findings suggest that average-size models may be used in advertising without compromising the effectiveness of the advert and without increasing body image concerns amongst many women.

"Models with a healthy, normal body size could be used effectively in advertising

Contrary to claims that thinness sells, the perceived effectiveness of the adverts was not influenced by the body size of the models. Average-size and ultra-thin models were seen as equally effective. This was found to hold across advertisements for a range of different consumer goods, including body care, make-up and food products.

Notes for editors

University of Sussex press office contacts: Jacqui Bealing and Jessica Mangold, tel: 01273 678209, fax: 01273 877456, email:


Contact Alexandra Saxon or Annika Howard at ESRC, on 01793 413032/413119

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The research project "The Role of Self-Beliefs in Women's Responses to Idealised Models in Advertising" was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).  Dr Helga Dittmar is Reader in Psychology at the University of Sussex. Dr Emma Halliwell is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of the West of England in Bristol.

The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. For more information on the ESRC visit


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