Commerce and psychology student Erika Boudreau studied the effects advertising has on body image in female undergraduate students for her honours research. The project called ‘I thought I was beautiful’ made use of both her Commerce degree and her psychology minor.
“I took the Commerce course Consumer Behaviour in my third year and I thought it was very interesting how marketers are almost able to manipulate their message to influence what a consumer sees. We looked at how a certain advertisement can make you feel a certain way. I found that interesting and I wondered how this worked,” says Boudreau.
Through her psychology courses, she saw how the brain works in response to these cues, such as what happens when you view very thin models. She chose to link the two to get a fuller picture for her honours thesis.
Boudreau’s interest in this area started much earlier. As a competitive figure skater for 11 years, Boudreau was often told she was too tall.
“I was exposed to sports and performances where your size was an issue and had an impact on being an athlete. I remember thinking, ‘That is kind of weird, I am strong and healthy, why should my height affect my performance?’”
Boudreau surveyed students using six athletic apparel advertisements on Instagram that showed models of different sizes. Participants were asked questions to see how model size played a role in how they felt about their own physical attractiveness and body size and shape, their purchasing intentions, and whether they liked the ad and brand.
“The major findings were, and this was consistent with previous research, that the larger the model in the advertisement, the more satisfied they were with their own body image and attractiveness," she says. "Students really liked ads that featured larger models, but they reported liking the brand more and had stronger purchasing intentions after viewing advertisements with medium-size models.”
Dr. Rosemary Polegato supervised Boudreau’s honours thesis.
“Her research helps to debunk the assumption that one must be very thin to be beautiful and that only advertisements with very thin models will sell women’s clothing,” she says. “Boudreau’s findings show that both society and business benefit from applying a fresh approach to long-standing social issues.”
As well as having some interesting findings in her research, Boudreau discovered something about herself.
“I really love marketing research and analytics,” she says. “If I could work with stats, do surveys, and analyze data, I would be happy. When I was little my Dad would tell my Mom that I was going to work with stats and he likes that he has been proven right.”
Boudreau says this research has been the highlight of her year at Mount Allison because she chose a topic that she was very passionate about.
“Working on it didn’t feel like work. I had so much fun.”