19 April 2024

Provocative female models in advertising lead to intra-sexual competition

Executive Education
| The European |
Slyvie Borau, Toulouse Business School professor

A research by Toulouse Business School professor, Sylvie Borau (Department of Marketing and International Business), and Jean-François Bonnefon from Toulouse School of Economics has revealed that sexualisation of female models in advertising leads to intra-sexual competition among female consumers. While negative effects of idealized models on audiences (body anxiety, eating disorders, etc.) are now a well-known fact, this research has gone one-step further to show that provocative advertising models also trigger indirect aggression patterns against female rivals, such as bullying, fat-shaming or slut-shaming.

Based on four different studies, the researchers have concluded that because of their sexually provocative attitude, these models are perceived as sexual rivals by female viewers, and trigger feelings and behaviours which are usually reserved for real rivals: mate-guarding jealousy, derogatory gossip, and social exclusion.

“The provocative posture of the models, and not her thin body size, was the characteristic that triggered viewers to engage in indirect aggression. This is an important result, given the emphasis that previous research and the media put on the models’ body size” said Professor Sylvie Borau.

“Women bullying women may not always be as openly aggressive as men bullying men, but indirect aggression, such as derogatory gossip or social exclusion is, nonetheless, a serious concern, given its dramatic consequences that include depression and suicide,” added Pr. Borau. “Our research shows that women are exposed through advertising to an unrealistic number of provocative female models, which take them through needless reinforcement of these indirect aggression responses”.

The research also discusses the ethical implications of these findings and puts forward solutions that could help curb the impact of sexual provocativeness in advertising. The provocative attitude of the model is not altered by digital means; thus the practice is hard to objectively define and could be easily confounded with issues of decency.

“Consumer-advocate organizations, media watchdogs and concerned citizens have a large role to play, both for raising public awareness and for incentivizing companies to maintain responsible practices”, concluded Professor Borau.

About Toulouse Business School

Founded in 1903 by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Toulouse, Toulouse Business School now has five campuses: Toulouse, Paris, London, Barcelona and Casablanca. TBS offers several study programmes (Master in Management, Bachelor programme, Specialized Masters, Masters of Science, MBA programs, Executive Education programmes and a CPA for continuous learning). Its mission: To train high- level decision makers from all walks of life and regardless of where they will ultimately exercise their responsibilities; to contribute to advancing knowledge in the major management disciplines through the TBS Research Center.

Its programmes are primarily focused on HR, marketing, finance, chartered accounting, consulting and auditing, but without neglecting cultural, humanitarian, and entrepreneurial aspects. As a key player in the Midi-Pyrénées region, Toulouse Business School also offers training in the aeronautical sector (with an Aerospace MBA, an MS in Logistics, Procurement and International Trade, an MS in Air Transport Management, etc.) jointly with partner businesses and schools.

Toulouse Business School is part of the 1% of leading Business School with the triple international accreditation EQUIS/AMBA/AACSB. The school has a truly international profile, and has signed more than 180 exchange agreements with universities on every continent. There are nearly 80 different nationalities represented on the various campuses.

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