Loyola University Chicago

Quinlan School of Business

Student research on the portrayal of women accepted at two marketing conferences

Student research on the portrayal of women accepted at two marketing conferences

Quinlan senior Anna Pristach researched the portrayal of women's bodies by fast fashion brands.

By Foram Patel | Student Reporter

Quinlan senior Anna Pristach is passionate about promoting body image positivity, or being self-accepting, comfortable, and happy in one’s body.

During her Loyola experience, Pristach co-created the student organization BIEDA, or Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness, to raise awareness and encourage people to think positively about their bodies. In three years, BIEDA has grown to 47 members on campus.

She also studied the portrayal of women’s bodies on the social media of fast fashion brands, such as Forever 21, H&M, and Zara, with the support of Quinlan Assistant Professor Jenna Drenten, PhD, and a Johnson Scholarship from Loyola’s Gannon Center for Women and Leadership. Pristach will present this research later this year at the Marketing Management Association Conference and the Marketing and Public Policy Conference.

Here, she shares her research, its importance, and how Quinlan has aided her success.

Tell us about your research.  

We know from research that traditional advertising can influence how women view their bodies. However, this research does not account for the popularity of social media among young adults today.

With the mentorship of Dr. Drenten, my research focused on exploring the representations of women’s bodies on Instagram, a visual social platform, for fast fashion brands in both Eastern and Western cultures. We wanted to see how women’s bodies are portrayed through social media marketing images targeted toward female consumers.

Our research indicated two distinct themes across the sample of nine brands:

  • Lack of diverse body types
    A lack of diversity exists among the female body types represented within branded fast fashion posts across cultures. Of the 900 images sampled, less than .05% featured plus-size or curvy models. We found that only four models of diverse female body types on a single Western-influenced brand.
  • Objectification and sexualization
    The second theme was that particularly among Western brands, the portrayal of female models’ bodies reinforce objectification and sexualization. Although Western-influenced brands, such as Forever 21, tend to be slightly more inclusive of diverse body types, the female models portrayed tend to be more sexualized in nature, whereas Eastern-influenced brands, such as Uniqlo, tend to display models more conservatively.

Why is this research important?

Our study suggests online platforms reproduce traditional objectifying and idealized standards for women’s bodies, which reinforces women’s internalization of these expectations. 

As social media advertising may eventually take over traditional media advertising, it’s important to be aware of the messages brands are sending to young consumers through their visual portrayals of the female body.

How has Loyola and Quinlan supported you in your endeavors?

I’m grateful for the support of both the Quinlan Marketing Department and the Gannon Center. In particular, my mentor, Dr. Drenten, has been a driving force behind my research.

In the classroom, I've learned a lot at Loyola than I perhaps would not have at a different institution that did not embody the Jesuit ideals and mission and that did not emphasize on a well-rounded education. This focus has taken my interests beyond the classroom, and manifested in opportunities like this Johnson Scholarship.