Purpose – The purpose of this study is to identify images used in advertising directed toward young adults, investigate what young adults thought of these images, and explore how young adults used these images.
Design/methodology/approach – A content analysis of 674 apparel and cosmetic advertisements located in four fashion magazines (Elle Girl, Seventeen, YM, and TeenVogue) resulted in eight categories. Participants (n ¼ 32) viewed advertisements representative of the categories and answered questions related to their thoughts about the model depicted in the advertisement and their use of the images.
Findings – Participants’ used the models as a point of comparison. Participants primarily commented on their own weight relative to the thin models and expressed a need to lose weight to appear like them. With two categories of advertisements depicting average weight models participants noted that the model appeared realistic. However, they did not draw comparisons between themselves and these models.
Research limitations/implications – Young adults do make comparisons between themselves and models used in fashion advertising. These comparisons were primarily downward. Use of average-sized models may not be a solution to negative impacts on body image, as these participants did not make use of the average-sized models as a point of comparison.
Originality/value – Young women do compare themselves with models used in advertising. They recognize average weight women in advertising but do not make the same types of comparisons with these models, suggesting that the use of average weight models may be a solution to advertising’s impact on developing negative body images in young adults.