The study, published in the journal Communication Monographs, surveyed 49 college-aged women who had all voiced they would like to be thinner and recorded their reactions when viewing images of straight-size models, average-size models and plus-size models.
The results showed that women reported the greatest satisfaction with their bodies when seeing the plus-size models. When viewing thinner models, body satisfaction decreased.
"We found overwhelmingly that there is a clear psychological advantage when the media shows more realistic body types than the traditional thin model," Jessica Ridgway, study author and assistant professor in the Department of Retail, Merchandising and Product Development at FSU, told Florida State University News.
Furthermore, when women were shown images of thinner models, they were more apt to compare themselves to the photos and less likely to remember them. When viewing images of plus-size models, however, study participants made fewer "social comparisons" and paid more attention to the women.
This study further confirmed earlier findings that more plus-size women in ads can directly affect a woman's body image, with women generally responding better to ads they can relate to.
"It might be a useful persuasive strategy for media producers to employ plus-size models if the goal of the campaign is to capture attention while also promoting body positivity," lead author and assistant professor Russell Clayton said.
Plenty of brands like Aerie have already embraced this strategy, with sales skyrocketing since the company embraced more realistic depictions of models.