Public Release: 

Shop environment influences women's attitude to body size

A geographer at the University of Liverpool has discovered how women's attitudes towards their body change in different shopping environments.

University of Liverpool

A geographer at the University of Liverpool has discovered how women's attitudes towards their body change in different shopping environments.

Dr Rachel Colls says size and colour of shop changing rooms, as well as the position and size of shop mirrors, influence women's perception of their bodies.

She explains: "Research into women's relationship with their bodies tends to find that clothes shopping and subsequent diets have negative effects on their emotional health. However, my research reveals that women have a detailed knowledge of shopping environments and choose where to go to make them feel more positive about their body."

The study reveals that a high number of mirrors on the shop floor make female shoppers feel uncomfortable. Mirror images not only reflect the realities of the body in its present form, but remind women of what they looked like in the past.

Dr Colls added: "When women look in the mirror they are forced to address the body in the present and past, as well as the body as they would like in the future. This can be overwhelming, but many women tackle this problem by addressing body parts rather than the whole body at once, making any problems look smaller. Some shops use 'skinny mirrors' which women prefer, as they make the body look slimmer."

Dr Colls also found that small changing rooms attached to the main shop floor made women more body conscious.

Dr Colls said: "The changing room is a space in which the body is on show and where instances women tend to compare themselves to other women and become more aware of fatty areas of the body, such as the thighs and stomach. Some feel more uncomfortable when the changing rooms are attached directly to the main shop floor, as male partners are required to wait outside. To show their partner an outfit, they are also forced to show other shoppers as well.

"Far from feeling victimised in these situations, women address the problem in a positive way. They look for shops with larger changing cubicles with adjustable lighting, which allows the shopper to control their environment and thus make their body size more acceptable."

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Notes to editors
1. Shops that had a positive affect on women:

  • Evans - large changing rooms, with comfortable seating for partners/friends
  • Next - large changing rooms and mirrors, buzzer to request assistance, adjustable lighting above mirrors
  • Marks and Spencer - large changing rooms with seating, three way mirrors, flattering lighting, fashion magazines available

    2. Shops that had a negative affect on women:

  • Boutiques - small changing rooms situated in a confined space; often too close to the shop floor

    3. The University of Liverpool is one of the UK's leading research institutions with a prodigious spread of expertise - from the humanities and social sciences to engineering, science, veterinary science and medicine. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations - commissions valued at more than £80 million annually.

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