Respect Diversity + Inclusion

Study finds rising presence of plus size models on social media

“However, the mainstream model still prevails as the social media powerhouse of influence.”
photos taken of runway models.
The Associated Press/Luca Bruno

Story at a glance


  • Plus size models have made strides in improving representation in advertising and media alike.

  • But their impact on social media remained unclear.

  • To better understand the extent to which these influencers are shaping social media engagement, researchers at Boston University carried out a study.

Americans’ beauty standards are constantly evolving, and are often reflected in the media and fluctuating demands for certain body-altering surgeries. 

Social media has often been criticized for glorifying a single type of attractive body, but new research from Boston University suggests more plus size models are making an impact on platforms, and could reflect a positive shift for inclusivity and representation.

“While the American standard of beauty appears to idolize extreme thinness as seen in Victoria Secret models and their diminishing body sizes, we sought to explore the impact of plus size models by reviewing their body size metrics and social media presence to better understand their emerging role in the current standards of beauty,” said study co-author Neelam Vashi in a statement.

To do so, researchers assessed body measurements and characteristics of 159 plus size models and the top 10 highest paid mainstream models, determined by Forbes. 


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Social Blade, a social media analytics tool, was used to analyze social media data, while the Fashion Model Directory and modeling agency websites were employed to obtain physical metrics (ie, eye color, hair color, height, etc).

Despite the top 10 highest paid models having an average individual following of 38 million and plus size models having an average 3.8 million followers, researchers found no significant differences in average likes per post, average comments per post, and total posts. 

Average plus size model height was 69 inches, average bust measurement was 40 inches, waist measurement was 43 inches, and hip measurement was 46 inches. Average dress size among these models was 14 and they had an increased body mass index.

However, data showed that among traditionally skinny models and plus size models, waist-to-hip ratio was 0.71 and 0.74 on average, respectively, suggesting this metric remains a constant beauty standard across body types. 

“With the changing societal body image in America, plus-size models have gained in popularity and positively impacted a body-inclusive model of beauty,” authors wrote. “However, the mainstream model still prevails as the social media powerhouse of influence.”

Plus size influencers Ashley Graham, Jordyn Woods, and Iskra Lawrence ranked highest in terms of followers among the plus size cohort, while Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, and Cara Delevingne were the top 3 most followed traditional models. 

Researchers noted none of the top paid models, according to Forbes, are plus size and all are between the sizes 0 and 4.