Vogue‘s recent decision to become “ambassadors for positive body image” sounds, for the most part, like an attempt to patch up their many missteps in the fight against terrible self-esteem and eating disorders. But according to an Elle Canada article by Ben Barry (owner of the Ben Barry Agency, a pro-women talent agency that uses diverse body types), it may also be a savvy business move. Because, despite the firmly-held beliefs of many advertisers, women actually buy more stuff when clothing is modeled on realistic, healthy, and natural models.
It turns out, according to Barry’s research, that models are more than just skeletal clothes hangers that women ignore when flipping through the glossy magazine pages. He found that we are, to no woman’s surprise, inclined to look at who’s wearing the clothes, and–here’s the important part–base our purchasing habits on what we see. Shocking, I know.
From the article:
My study found that women increased their purchase intentions by more than 200 percent when the models in the mock ads were their size. In the subgroup over size 6, women increased their purchase intentions by a dramatic 300 percent when they saw curvier models. Conversely, when women saw models who didn’t reflect their size, they decreased their purchase intentions by 60 percent, and women over size 6 dropped their purchase intentions by 76 percent.
It’s true, Fashion Industry and Advertising Moguls: You could be making more money if you actually used real models. You don’t even have to care about the fact that it would help women feel better about themselves. You could totally just do it for the boost in sales. So…why don’t you?
Barry points out that, often, when the use of “normal”-looking women succeeds (like Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, which bolstered sales by leaps and bounds, and endeared the brand to millions of consumers), the marketing and fashion industries see it as a one-off, or a novelty that won’t succeed again. But, as his and other research indicates, they’re missing a huge opportunity. Apparently women (who have brains and money and self-esteem concerns) actually appreciate it when models are less ‘aspirational’ (read: very thin).
And even if natural or differently-shaped women are just a novelty that excites women (remember how excited everyone and their mom was about that one V magazine spread? Or that time when Crystal Renn, pre-weight loss, modeled swimsuits in Glamour and we all had a heart attack because of her beauty?), isn’t that a good enough reason to keep trying it? If it’s novel to portray women as they are, shouldn’t we keep doing it until it becomes the norm?
Consider a recent interview we ran with Katie Halchishick of Natural Model Management, and our readers loved it, in part because the idea of empowering and photographing women of a variety of sizes is so outside of the mainstream–but it’s not outside of the desires of women.
Women want to see models that look like them, not ultra-thin women who give them something to aspire to /starve themselves to become. And yet, much of the fashion industry is lagging behind, churning out size 2 samples and casting impossibly small women to pose nude, hipbones akimbo, as they shill for handbags and headscarves, because they think that giving women something to “work toward” is the best way to spur purchases. But, as Barry illustrates (and as many of us can attest to), it’s not what we want–and it’s not how we behave. Karl Lagerfeld doesn’t have to be OK with Adele‘s body, or even care about how women feel about their bodies–he just needs to accept that women like seeing other women who look like her.
Designers and marketers should take a leaf out of Barry and Halchishick’s respective books and consider broadening sample sizes and widening their casting pools–if not because it’s better for women (though it is), because it’s better for their bottom line.