The Self-Deceived Consumer: Women’s Emotional and Attitudinal Reactions to the Airbrushed Thin Ideal in the Absence Versus Presence of Disclaimers

Abstract

The use of airbrushed “thin ideal” models in advertising creates major ethical challenges: This practice deceives consumers and can be harmful to their emotional state. To inform consumers they are being deceived and reduce these negative adverse effects, disclaimers can state that the images have been digitally altered and are unrealistic. However, recent research shows that such disclaimers have very limited impact on viewers. This surprising result needs further investigation to understand how women who detect that images have been airbrushed are still harmed by them. Three studies reported in this article address this question. The authors identify a typology, based on a combination of three emotional reactions experienced by women who are exposed to the airbrushed thin ideal. In further analyses, they investigate how detection of airbrushing—whether spontaneous or with the help of a disclaimer—relates to these emotional reactions and women’s attitudes to altered images. Results show that detection of airbrushing does not systematically protect women from either wanting to look like airbrushed thin models or the negative emotions triggered by exposure to thin ideal images, nor does it always generate defensive reactions toward ads using such images. Women who detect that images have been airbrushed may still process these images as realistic. In addition to discussing this irrational process of self-deception, this article suggests policy interventions to prevent it.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For continuous variables, it is recommended to perform a hierarchical cluster analysis first, using Ward’s method, and then use the results generated from this as input for the k-means method (Janssens et al. 2008).

  2. 2.

    Results of Study 2 indicate that Age and BMI are potential moderators. Because the pattern of results does not change when these two variables are controlled in Study 3, the analyses reported do not include age and BMI as control variables.

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Correspondence to Sylvie Borau.

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Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

The self-deceived consumer: women’s emotional and attitudinal reactions to the airbrushed thin ideal in the absence versus presence of disclaimers.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Respondent Profiles (Study 1)

Name Age Description
Léa 25 Housewife, 1 child
Clara 25 Sales administrator
Corinne 29 Recruitment manager
Aurélie 29 Research analyst
Emma 31 Recruitment manager, 1 child
Stéphanie 32 Social worker, 1 child
Camille 32 Manager of an association, 1 child
Chloë 32 Unemployed, 1 child
Audrey 32 Senior manager
Coralie 32 Merchandiser
Tamara 33 Housewife, 2 children
Laetitia 34 Freelancer, 2 children
Emilie 34 Housewife, 2 children
Karine 35 Sound engineer, 1 child
Vanessa 35 Professor
Laurence 36 Artist
Isabelle 36 Unemployed
Florence 37 Nanny
Patricia 40 Secretary, 3 children
Brigitte 40 Analyst
Gislaine 43 Personal assistant, 2 children
Soraya 45 Switchboard operator
  1. To preserve respondents’ anonymity, first names have been modified

Appendix 2: Items Used for the Exploratory Factor Analysis in the Pre-test Phase—Emotions Toward the Airbrushed Thin Ideal Model

Pleasure Aversion Displeasure
Pleasant surprise Unpleasant surprise Sadnessa
Joy Annoyancea Concerna
Curiositya Disgust Stressa
Delight Angera Jealousy
Enthusiasm   Guilt
Funa   Discomforta
Well-being   Depression
Admirationa   Regret
Sympathya   Resignationa
Reliefa   Frustration
Interesta   Shame
   Feara
Boredoma
  1. aItems excluded after factor analysis

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Borau, S., Nepomuceno, M.V. The Self-Deceived Consumer: Women’s Emotional and Attitudinal Reactions to the Airbrushed Thin Ideal in the Absence Versus Presence of Disclaimers. J Bus Ethics 154, 325–340 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3413-2

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Keywords

  • Deceptive advertising
  • Self-deception
  • Airbrushed images
  • Female thin ideal
  • Disclaimers
  • Negative emotions