Despite disclaimers, women continue to process airbrushed ‘thin ideal’ models as realistic

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Research by Sylvie Borau, professor of marketing and researcher at Toulouse Business School, and Marchelo Vinhal Nepomuceno at HEC Montreal, has revealed that, despite the presence of disclaimers on ads featuring airbrushed models, many women continue to process the images as realistic.

Furthermore, the disclaimers do not protect those women from either wanting to look like Photoshopped thin models nor from the negative emotions triggered by exposure to thin ideal images.

The study confirmed the three core emotions experienced by women when exposed to the airbrushed thin ideal: pleasure, displeasure, and aversion. It further categorized women into four typologies based on their level of detection of airbrushing: ‘resistants’, who adopt a defensive attitude, ‘indifferents’, who are detached, ‘hedonists’, who appear to be naïve, and ‘victims’ who are prone to self-deception.

According to Borau, the findings have three important implications. They provide new insight into female consumers’ vulnerability to deceptive advertising, demonstrates the effect, or lack thereof, of labeling disclaimers and provides marketers with a new typology of emotional reactions that can be used “by market researchers and marketing managers, who will be better able to predict the performance of their advertising and implement more responsible campaigns”.

Borau’s paper, “The Self-Deceived Consumer: Women’s Emotional and Attitudinal Reactions to the Airbrushed Thin Idea in the Absence Versus Presence of Disclaimers“, published in the Journal of Business Ethics in December 2016, calls for further research on the use of disclaimers and visual literacy, as well as more broadly the ethics of deceptive advertising.



Kristina Knight is a freelance writer based in Ohio, United States. She began her career in radio and television broadcasting, focusing her energies on health and business reporting. After six years in the industry, Kristina branched out on her own. Since 2001, her articles have appeared in Family Delegate, Credit Union Business, and with Threshold Media.