Placing a skinny, socially-acceptable beauty in an advertisement is something companies have been doing for a long time. The idea is that a thin, "idealized" model will sell more that a quote-unquote real woman. A recent study done by Warwick Business School about how women react to skinny models as an example of aspirational living may actually backfire, leaving women feeling ostracized from the product the model is intending to sell. Says researcher Dr. Tamara Ansons in The Daily Mail, "This is because a pretty model triggers a coping mechanism in women — scorn — which helps them feel better about their own looks."
So, a skinny, idealized, heavily airbrushed model may incite scorn by onlookers, especially when presented in an obvious and blatant way, like a Victoria's Secret model. According to the Warwick study, the obvious pandering creates a defensive mechanism in the viewer. Yet, not all is bad for models and advertisers: Obvious pandering may not work, but more subtle placement, where a celebrity or idealized model is placed in a more atmospheric setting, has the exact effect that advertisers are aiming to achieve. As Ansons writes, "We found that a woman’s self-perception and consequent effects on product evaluation depend on the degree of attention paid to the idealised image of a woman in advertisements." Basically, if the super-elite model is secondary to the scene, the advertisement pays off.
The bottom line is that idealized models, when presented just as bodies or faces, happen to ostracize the viewer. Yet, when they are depicted as being a part of a lifestyle choice, or if they are, as the study puts it, "subtly exposed," the attractive person or celebrity is more subdued and, hence, imitable. The study suggests that we only like physical "perfection" when it isn't in our faces.
Photo: Courtesy of Victoria's Secret