Study claims positive plus-size clothing messages may have a downside

Discussion
Source: nordstrom.com
Jul 03, 2018
Tom Ryan

Retailers have been praised for featuring plus-size models and offering more plus-size apparel. A university study, however, contends such efforts may be undermining efforts to reduce obesity.

A University of East Anglia study said that, while attempts to reduce stigmatization of larger body sizes — including the availability of plus-size ranges — helps promote body positivity, an unintentional negative consequence may be that fewer people are recognizing the health risks of being overweight.

An analysis of almost 24,000 people in the U.K. who are overweight or obese revealed that the number of overweight individuals who are misperceiving their weight has increased over time, from 48.4 percent to 57.9 percent in men and from 24.5 percent to 30.6 percent in women between 1997 and 2015.

Overall, those underestimating their weight are 85 percent less likely to try to lose weight compared with people who accurately identified their weight status.

“Seeing the huge potential of the fuller-sized fashion market, retailers may have contributed to the normalization of being overweight and obese,” said Dr. Raya Muttarak from the University of East Anglia, in a statement.

In the U.S., nearly 75 percent of men and more than 60 percent of women are obese or overweight, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. According to Plunkett Research, 68 percent of American women wear a size 14 or larger.

Spurred on by bloggers, plus-size models have become more common on runways and in ads, and retailers such as Norstrom and Target are using plus-size mannequins in their stores. Despite some backlash, the moves have been hailed publicly for being more inclusive. Stores have likewise expanded plus-size ranges.

Driven by apparel, the plus-size market in the U.S. is projected to grow to just under $26 billion by 2020 from $21.5 billion in 2015, a 4.1 percent annual growth rate, according to Marketdata.

John LaRosa, Marketdata’s research director, said in a statement, “We don’t see American obesity rates declining any time soon. As long as that’s the case, there should be increased demand from both young and middle-aged large persons for fashionable clothes and a wide variety of services to meet their needs.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retailers be concerned that using plus-size models or selling plus-size clothing may be normalizing obesity in an unhealthy way? Should stores be promoting healthy, active lifestyles to counter rising health risks?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I applaud retailers like Torrid and Ashley Stuart for embracing their women and giving them the feeling that they belong — because they do."
"Excuse me. My head just exploded."
"“Studies” like this, intentionally or unintentionally reinforce what I once thought was the last “acceptable” form of discrimination: fat shaming."

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29 Comments on "Study claims positive plus-size clothing messages may have a downside"


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Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

Helping to define aspirations is but a retail tactic toward fulfilling the need and desire of the customer, which is the primary role of the retailer. So many factors impact buying decisions that consumers make that it is folly for any retailer to invest in an attitude adjustment that reaches too far beyond the products and services they provide.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

So let me get this right, women who see themselves in fashions and stores and feel included are bad because they won’t want to lose weight. So the converse is that we should have fewer plus-size models so they feel bad enough to want to lose weight. Am I missing something?

Plus-size models have been shunned for too long and thinking they are the problem is foolish. I applaud retailers like Torrid and Ashley Stuart for embracing their women and giving them the feeling that they belong — because they do.

Joanna Rutter
BrainTrust
5 months 12 days ago
You’re hitting the nail right there, Bob. Media should not be a weapon used to manipulate women who, as you rightly say, do belong. Research is not neutral either. A great recent read on the topic is supermodel Tess Holliday’s SELF Magazine cover story. Here’s a quote from her interview: “In the beginning I used to say, ‘I’m healthy, my cholesterol’s fine, I don’t have high blood pressure, I don’t have diabetes,” [to concern trolls] she says. But now she takes a different approach. “By telling people that you see a doctor, and telling people that you’re healthy, it’s perpetuating the abuse against bigger bodies and the mindset that we owe it to people to be healthy. The reality is I don’t owe you [****] and I don’t have to prove that I’m healthy or not, because it is nobody’s business.” I have a whole blog post worth of thoughts on this topic, but the plain truth is just like you say: Thinking plus-sized women are the problem is silly. It is undeniably better to… Read more »
Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

And by the way, the woman in the photo above is not plus-sized.

Anne Howe
BrainTrust

I agree completely. The model pictured may be a size 14, but that’s not even close to the size range that the truly obese customer wears.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I’d say she’s closer to a 12. Where’s the study on big and tall men? There are never judge-y studies about men.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

And when Tyra Banks picked a plus-sized model to be America’s Next Top Model, she was a size 10.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

This is the most offensive piece I have read in a long time — not the RetailWire explanation, but the fact that the study exists at all is gross.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

How many thumbs up can I give Paula’s comment? Because it would number in the thousands. I may have to revert to Lamaze breathing to get through this study.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

My response was originally quite a bit longer. I am deeply offended that this subtle method of fat shaming actually saw the light of day. Seriously.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Bob, I can’t applaud your comment more. The position suggested in the discussion is over-the-top offensive.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

After reading the article I was prepared to write a long commentary on everything that is wrong with what was being said and suggested — then I saw your comments Bob and I can’t possibly sum it up any better! I don’t think you can collect enough thumbs up on this one.

The study assumes a basic premise that any plus-size woman is supposed to recognize they have a terrible problem and that somehow seeing models of a similar shape is going to reinforce the idea that they are wrong to be that shape. That is beyond absurd and far too offensive. I have to believe this study was created exclusively to draw attention to the University group that produced it by intentionally being contrarian and controversial for the benefit of no one.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

I can’t help but think of the phrase, “Die young and leave behind a good-looking corpse.” There are two competing issues here, one medical and one psychological. Psychologically, acceptance of a less-than-perfect body is a good thing. Medically, if you’re overweight, you’re going to have issues down the road. These directly conflict. It’s not the fashion retailer’s job to make you healthy, it’s their job to sell you clothes you like. Pushing health is not going to help them do that.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

“Seeing the huge potential of the fuller-sized fashion market, retailers may have contributed to the normalization of being overweight and obese.” Excuse me. My head just exploded.

Does showing plus-size clothing in a positive light contribute to the normalization of being overweight? I don’t know. Does the fact the fashion industry continues to use underweight models contribute to anorexia? The average American woman wears a size 14; maybe we could stop trying to make her feel bad just because she wants a new outfit.

Not every woman who is labeled plus-size is overweight; just because you don’t fit into a designer’s sample size does not mean that your body is not strong and healthy. The fashion industry pats itself on the back each time it features a plus-size model, when that model actually wears a size 10. And that folks, ain’t plus-size.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust
You’re kidding me, right? That sound you hear is me snarling at this article. Where the heck is the University of Angila and what exactly do they understand about the pain of trying to find something that fits well and looks decent when you’re larger than a size 14, anyway? “Studies” like this, intentionally or unintentionally reinforce what I once thought was the last “acceptable” form of discrimination: fat shaming. Finally, when decent looking clothes are being made for the FIFTY percent of the female population that is over size 12, studies like this come along and set us right back. I really hope this “study” gets confined to the dustbin of history. How the heck does wearing clothes that fit equate to a confused body weight? And if we know people have dysmorphia (and I would tell you that in the U.S., it tends to go the other way — few first world tortures compare to a woman buying a bathing suit), isn’t the right way to solve for it to actually encourage them… Read more »
Anne Howe
BrainTrust

An apparel company that serves an obese population doesn’t have to own the problem. A food company bears more responsibility IMHO.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

“Seeing the huge potential of the fuller-sized fashion market, retailers may have contributed to the normalization of being overweight and obese,”

  1. May have — so this garbage isn’t even conclusive!
  2. Normalization – there’s nothing abnormal about overweight or obese people; they’re not sub-human!
  3. The job of a retailer is to sell clothes that people want, not to engage in some kind of social engineering or pass value judgments on people.
  4. Go find something useful and meaningful to study.
Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Love this comment!

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Thank you Neil! It’s good to hear a man echo the same.

Jasmine Glasheen
Staff

We have to cover the uncomfortable topics in journalism because what is left unsaid is infinitely more dangerous than what’s openly discussed.

With that out of the way… health isn’t determined by size, it’s determined by level of activity. Instead of critiquing the modicum of body inclusiveness that women have wrenched from the jaws of the fashion industry, this study should be talking about giving employees ample breaks to get up and move around, and implementing desk “bikes” or exercise balls to keep employees healthy.

Furthermore, small sizes do not a healthy woman make. As a veteran of the small town catalogue modeling scene, I can tell you that some of the thinnest people I know are also some of the unhealthiest. When will we be more concerned with a woman’s well-being than her appearance? Hopefully soon. With their preference for “real” models and short attention span for BS advertising, I’m hoping the next generation of consumers will pick up where we (Millennials) left off.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

No. Retailers shouldn’t be concerned that using models that reflect a full range of typical body sizes “normalizes obesity in an unhealthy way.” Maybe it happens some. We will, at some point, find out this study was not quite right — or perhaps entirely wrong.

It is not the responsibility of the store to promote lifestyle choices. It is the responsibility of the store to be an effective place for finding and buying products which people are satisfied with.

Societal forces are entrenching morality in institutions — like company health plans overseeing how much we walk. Or like demanding that stores drive morality. Morality is important — just not the job of either the company or the store.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Reducing obesity has nothing to do with clothes. Obesity is a health issue and many plus-size women (and women that would appear obese) are perfectly healthy. I could go on, but my brain is a little muddled now on how offensive the conclusions of this study are.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

So let me get this straight: Retailers who serve the plus-size market shouldn’t show plus-size models because they are “normalizing obesity”? Talk about body-shaming in the guise of an academic study!

Even retailers who do not cater specifically to special-size markets are getting away from using models who often look painfully thin, and they should be applauded for doing so.

Meaghan Brophy
BrainTrust

Is this “study” suggesting that plus sizes… shouldn’t have clothes? As many pointed out, over half of the female population wears over a size 12. Obviously, the fashion community should cater to this half of the population, as much as they have previously catered to smaller sizes.
Sure, retailers could promote healthy lifestyles. But that has nothing to do with what size clothes they offer. As Jasmine points out, size is not a direct indicator of health. If they want to set positive examples, start internally by prioritizing employee’s health, not passing judgment on customers.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

Retailers are just showing what people really look like rather than six-foot Glamazons with wings on. Hard to place blame on marketing that depicts reality. Should car dealers show Lambos instead of the mini-vans their selling? And if they did, will the mini-van buyers become the subject of a study? Surely the research would be better served trying to figure out what’ll get people in stores more often.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

I too am taken aback by this “study” which seems to imply that advertising images of real women lead to more obesity. No wonder so many folks on this thread are angry! Even the term “plus size” seems a bit offensive to me. How do women tolerate that?

I thought retailers exist to serve shoppers’ actual needs, not to promulgate an unreachable ideal (that most could not even sell!). The portrayal of fashion on models with varied body shapes seems intrinsically right to me. To infer this creates a negative health message seems intrinsically wrong, regardless of these study findings.

Jenifer Menz
Guest
5 months 12 days ago

This study also completely ignores the negative affects (eating disorders, depression, etc.) of only showing unrealistic Size 0 models.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

There really is nothing redeeming about this study as it seems to imply that if all advertising for women’s apparel consisted of size 0 models, then every woman in the world would automatically and immediately start dieting to achieve that same size 0. That premise is absurd. I don’t see how else we should interpret this study.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

What is the average weight, height, and clothes size for women? According to the logic in this study, models wearing any smaller sizes are promoting anorexia and models wearing any larger sizes are promoting obesity. AND the same applies for men.

Really? This argument has so many flaws on so many dimensions. I applaud the brands and retailers helping women and men feel comfortable with themselves.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I applaud retailers like Torrid and Ashley Stuart for embracing their women and giving them the feeling that they belong — because they do."
"Excuse me. My head just exploded."
"“Studies” like this, intentionally or unintentionally reinforce what I once thought was the last “acceptable” form of discrimination: fat shaming."

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