Skip to main content

Self-referencing and consumer evaluations of larger-sized female models: A weight locus of control perspective


In two experiments, we show that the beliefs women have about the controllability of their weight (i.e., weight locus of control) influences their responses to advertisements featuring a larger-sized female model or a slim female model. Further, we examine self-referencing as a mechanism for these effects. Specifically, people who believe they can control their weight (“internals”), respond most favorably to slim models in advertising, and this favorable response is mediated by self-referencing. In contrast, people who feel powerless about their weight (“externals”), self-reference larger-sized models, but only prefer larger-sized models when the advertisement is for a non-fattening product. For fattening products, they exhibit a similar preference for larger-sized models and slim models. Together, these experiments shed light on the effect of model body size and the role of weight locus of control in influencing consumer attitudes.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    Obesity is frequently defined using the body mass index (BMI) which is body weight in kilograms divided by the square of a person’s height in meters. BMIs below 18.5 are typically regarded as underweight, BMIs from 18.5 to 24.9 are typically considered normal weight, BMIs from 25 to 30 are typically considered overweight, and BMIs over 30 are typically considered obese (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 1998).

  2. 2.

    Average age was 21.97 years and mean body mass index (BMI) was 21.38 kg/m2. The sample can be classified as 16.7% underweight (i.e., 26 participants with a BMI less than 18.5), 67.3% normal weight (105 participants, BMI 18.5 to 24.9), 14.7% overweight (25, BMI 25 to 30) and 1.3% obese (2, BMI over 30).

  3. 3.

    While widely used by researchers, the WLOC scale has reported instances of low reliability (e.g., 0.49 to 0.58 Holt et al. 2001; Saltzer 1982). Thus, we included a related scale on weight control beliefs which used four 7-point items (e.g., “People have control over their weight,” strongly disagree–strongly agree, alpha = 0.75), adapted from Tiggemann and Anesbury (2000). Analysis indicated that WLOC was positively correlated with weight control beliefs (r = 0.55, p < 0.001) as well as with the willpower dimension of the Crandall antifat scale (r = 0.28, p < 0.01). Study 2 replicated these results (i.e., WLOC—weight control beliefs, r = 0.38, p < 0.01; WLOC—willpower, r = 0.31, p < 0.01).

  4. 4.

    Mills et al. (2002) highlight that demand characteristics can result in people feeling worse after exposure to ads featuring SMs. Consequently, in addition to the between-subjects design and deceptive experiment purpose (Sawyer 1975), we included a final question asking participants the purpose of the study. Seven participants were removed, resulting in a final sample of 80 participants.


  1. Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1173–1182.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bower, A. B., & Landreth, S. (2001). Is beauty best? Highly versus normally attractive models in advertising. Journal of Advertising, 30(1), 1–12.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Burnkrant R. E., & Unnava H. R. (1995). Effects of self-referencing on persuasion. Journal of Consumer Research, 22(June), 17–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Crandall, C. S. (1994). Prejudice against fat people: Ideology and self-interest. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(5), 882–894.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Furnham, A., & Nordling, R. (1998). Cross-cultural differences in preferences for specific male and female body shapes. Personality and Individual Differences, 25(4), 635–648.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Groesz, L. M., Levine, M. P., & Murnen, S. K. (2002). The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body dissatisfaction: A meta-analytic review. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 31(1), 1–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Grover, V. P., Keel, P. K., & Mitchell, J. P. (2003). Gender differences in implicit weight identity. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 34(1), 125–135.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Heatherton, T. F., & Polivy, J. (1991). Development and validation of a scale for measuring state self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(June), 895–910.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Holt, C. L., Clark, E. M., & Kreuter, M. W. (2001). Weight locus of control and weight-related attitudes and behaviors in an overweight population. Addictive Behaviors, 26(3), 329–340.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Martin, B. A. S., Lee, C. K.-C., & Yang, F. (2004). The influence of ad model ethnicity and self-referencing upon attitudes: Evidence from New Zealand. Journal of Advertising, 33(4), 27–37.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Mills, J. S., Polivy, J., Herman, C. P., & Tiggemann, M. (2002). Effects of exposure to thin media images: Evidence of self-enhancement among restrained eaters. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(12), 1687–1699.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Mooney, K. M., & Lorenz, E. (1997). The effects of food and gender on interpersonal perceptions. Sex Roles, 36(9/10), 639–653.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Mussweiler, T. (2003). Comparison processes in social judgment: Mechanisms and consequences. Psychological Bulletin, 110(3), 472–489.

    Google Scholar 

  14. National Center for Health Statistics. (2005). Prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults: United States, 1999–2000.

  15. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (1998). Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults: The evidence report. (NIH Publication No. 98-4083). Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Health.

  16. Netemeyer, R. G. (1997). Personal correspondence cited in William O. Bearden and Richard G. Netemeyer (eds.), Handbook of Marketing Scales: Multi-item Measures for Marketing and Consumer Behavior (425). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

  17. Ohanian, R. (1990). Construction and validation of a scale to measure celebrity endorsers’ perceived expertise, trustworthiness, and attractive. Journal of Advertising, 19(3), 39–52.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Peck, J., & Loken, B. (2004). When will larger-sized female models in advertisements be viewed positively? The moderating effects of instructional frame, gender, and need for cognition. Psychology & Marketing, 21(6), 425–442.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Richins, M. L. (1991). Social comparison and the idealized images of advertising. Journal of Consumer Research, 18(June), 71–83.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Rotter, J. B. (1966). Generalized expectancies for internal versus external control of reinforcement. Psychological Monographs, 80(1), 1–28.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Saltzer, E. B. (1982). The weight locus of control (WLOC) scale: a specific measure for obesity research. Journal of Personality Assessment, 46(6), 620–628.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Sawyer, A. G. (1975). Demand artifacts in laboratory experiments in consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research, 1(March), 20–30.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Smeesters, D., & Mandel, N. (2006). Positive and negative media image effects on the self. Journal of Consumer Research, 32(March), 576–582.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Stunkard, A. J., Sorensen, T., & Schulsinger. F. (1983). Use of the Danish adoption register for the study of obesity and thinness. In S. S. Kety, L. P. Rowland, R. L.Sidman, & S. W. Matthysse (Eds.), Genetics of neurological and psychiatric disorders, (115–120) New York: Raven.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Tiggemann, M., & Anesbury, T. (2000). Negative stereotyping of obesity in children: The role of controllability beliefs. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30(9), 1977–1993.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Tiggemann, M., & Rothblum, E. D. (1997). Gender differences in internal beliefs about weight and negative attitudes towards self and others. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21(4), 581–593.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Weeden, J., & Sabini, J. (2005). Physical attractiveness and health in western societies: A review. Psychological Bulletin, 131(5), 635–653.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank Peter Danaher, Bruce Hardie, David Griffith, Cristel Russell, Avi Shankar, the Editors and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brett A. S. Martin.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Martin, B.A.S., Veer, E. & Pervan, S.J. Self-referencing and consumer evaluations of larger-sized female models: A weight locus of control perspective. Market Lett 18, 197–209 (2007).

Download citation


  • Larger-sized models
  • Self-referencing
  • Weight locus of control
  • Brand and advertising attitudes