Do Body-Positive Media Campaigns Actually Work?
New research shows what women really think about body-positive media campaigns.
Posted Aug 21, 2019
In 2014, the lingerie company Aerie announced that it would use more diverse models and stop airbrushing its promotional materials. Five years later, the company remains committed to this decision. A quick browse through their website shows women with a variety of body shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and skin tones.
Aerie is not alone in its commitment to promoting a healthier body image. Other companies, such as Dove, Target, ASOS, and Old Navy, have made similar changes. But an important question is: Do media campaigns such as these have any real effects on how women feel about their bodies? And, from a business perspective, do these campaigns influence consumer opinions about the brand? A new study led by researchers from Northeastern University can provide answers.
In the study, 35 women (18-23 years old) were shown six advertisements from Aerie. Next, each woman was interviewed about how the advertisements made her feel, and her opinions about the company.
The researchers identified the following common themes from the interviews:
- Compared to ‘traditional’ advertisements, the women thought that the Aerie models were more diverse in terms of characteristics like body shape, size, and ethnicity. The models also looked less sexualized, and more natural, happy, and body confident.
- Most of the women said that the advertisements made them feel happier about their own bodies. The models appeared relatable, and similar to themselves and the people in their social circle. The women felt inspired by the body confidence and self-acceptance that the models portrayed.
- The majority of the women felt positive about Aerie because of the advertisements and said that they would be more likely to support the company. They also expected to feel comfortable shopping in their stores, and that their lingerie would suit their body type.
- More broadly, most women felt that Aerie was helping to change the media landscape for the better. They thought that portraying greater body diversity could reduce harmful appearance pressures and disordered eating among young women.
- Many women also expressed skepticism about Aerie. For example, some women thought that the models still represented only a narrow range of body types and were still conventionally attractive. Some women also questioned whether the campaign was genuine, underscoring that Aerie does, of course, aim to make a profit.
The take-home message
Overall, women perceived Aerie’s promotional materials positively: They thought that Aerie’s models were diverse, and helped them to feel more body confident. They also thought that Aerie was contributing to greater body positivity and well-being more broadly. Some women wished that an even more diverse range of bodies would be shown.
These findings support other recent studies in this area. For example, an experiment by the same research group showed that viewing Aerie’s advertisements was less harmful to women’s body image compared to viewing traditional advertisements of thin and toned models. Further, other research has shown that consumers want to see more body diversity in media, and exposure to body-positive social media makes women feel happier with their bodies.
From the business end, Aerie’s campaign has been a successful one. In the present study, most women viewed the brand positively and said they would be more likely to buy their products. Interestingly, just one year after the launch of their new campaign, Aerie experienced a 20 percent increase in sales. Together, then, the research shows that promoting body diversity is not only a socially responsible choice but also benefits a company’s bottom line.
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