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The appeal versus harm of size-zero models to female consumers (SF19/MOS/BIAN)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Sufficient research findings suggest that size-zero female models have detrimental impacts on women, such as body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem. Advertisers and the fashion industry however seem to be reluctant to replace size-zero with larger models. Some practitioners argue that size-zero models are aesthetically pleasing and inspirational, thus, are preferred by consumers. Market examples, indeed, bear this out, for example, the magazine Brigitte saw a 22 percent reduction in subscriptions soon after replacing size-zero with larger models (Daily Mail, 2012), all of which present a paradox – images that make women feel bad appear to appeal to them.

Drawing on social comparison theory, self-regulation theory, and social psychology escape theory, the current project dissects this paradox, which has significant theoretical, practical, social as well as policy implications. This project argues that the extant literature: (1) relies too much on explicit measures and experiment settings that lead women to focus on beauty standard and self-comparisons, which might press them to process media in a more self-aware way than in the field, and (2) falls short of acknowledging variability in individuals’ reactions to size-zero models motivated by diversified media consumption goals in distinct environments (Bian and Foxall, 2013; Bian and Wang, 2015; Webster and Tiggemann, 2003).

Acknowledging these limitations, this project examines whether negative effects are a by-product of explicitly asking women to evaluate or compare size-zero models to themselves, while more spontaneous exposure will elicit positive and/or negative responses, depending on self-awareness and media consumption goals. We test these innovative ideas across 5 studies. While prior studies solely used explicit measurement, we use both explicit and implicit measurements to capture data, which enables an improved understanding of the effects of size-zero models on women of distinct characteristics and personal goals.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF19/…) will not be considered.

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality and is a member of the Euraxess network, which delivers information and support to professional researchers.

Funding Notes

Please note this is a self-funded project and does not include tuition fees or stipend.


Recent publications by supervisors relevant to this project:

Bian, X. and Wang, K-Y. (2015). Are size-zero female models always more effective than average-sized ones? Depends on Brand and self-esteem! European Journal of Marketing. 49(7/8), pp. 1184-1206.

Bian, X. and Foxall, G. (2013). Will Normal-Sized Female Models in Advertisements be Viewed as Positively as Small-Sized Models? European Journal of Marketing, 47(¾), pp. 485-505.

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