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The Muse Study

January 16, 2021

Muse Study
Canadian models are being given an opportunity to shed some light on a subject that has mostly been kept in the dark. Often the topic of negative media, assumptons about the attitudes and behaviours of models are based on stereotypes - not research.

But now someone is taking an academic approach and digging deeper. Jennifer McWhirter, a 23-year-old student at the University of Waterloo, is conducting an exploratory comparison between models and undergraduates as the basis of her Honours thesis.

"It's a really interesting population because models sometimes, and especially lately, are ridiculed in the media for their lifestyle and eating habits. But they're also envied, or they wouldn't be on the cover of magazines or on the runways of top designers."

The researcher herself is 5'11", thin and attractive, and has a personal reason for choosing this subject. "Part of the reason was my experience when I was 13 or 14, and I was introduced to the industry." At the time, she says, she was teased for how thin she was. But when she entered the modelling industry she was accepted and even admired. "All of a sudden that gave a boost to my self-esteem."

"The way I'm approaching this, maybe I feel like I identify with the models a little bit. I have a similar body-type and I know what it's like to be stereotyped, and what people assume about your eating habits. It doesn't feel very nice."

Dr. Anthony & Jennifer McWhirter
The message McWhirter is trying to get across right now is that she's not out to vilify the models. "If anything, I'm on their side. But as a researcher I do have to let the data speak for itself."

The results will be groundbreaking. In an introductory letter recently sent to Toronto and Montréal agencies, McWhirter explains that for more than 25 years "no academic research has ventured to ask Canadian models how they themselves feel about their bodies." In fact, only three times has any formal research been published anywhere in the world.

Titled the MUSE (Model and Undergraduate Self-Esteem) Study, the online survey focuses on more than just eating behaviour. It's also about self-esteem, health and general experiences with modelling. "What was positive about it, what was negative? I don't want this to get labelled as an eating disorder study. It's more than that.

"We're also not trying to diagnose anybody - we just want to learn more about a really understudied population."

Agencies were contacted late last year to request their participation, and while McWhirter says not all chose to take part, some have already started contacting their models, and others have suggested they will do so shortly.

McWhirter says the survey, open to both females and males, is completely anonymous. Participants must be at least 18-years-old to satisfy university ethics concerns, but the study isn't limited to straight-sized fashion models. McWhirter is hoping plus-sized models, commercial models and modelling students will also offer their insights.

The groundwork started about a year ago, and according to McWhirter the results should be available within months. "It's not a very complicated analysis. It's really an exploratory study. Probably within five months."

Those results may then be published in peer-reviewed academic journals. "But because it's a topic that's in the public-eye right now," says McWhirter, "and because we're asking the industry to give up a bit of its time to help us with it we want to make sure it's available somewhere they would read, so anything from a press release to Modelresource."

McWhirter's thesis supervisor, Dr. Kelly Anthony, sees the potential for this study to lead to further research. She tells Modelresource, "if indeed we find there isn't a higher instance of eating disorders in models than a comparison sample, that's not what people are necessarily going to want to hear. I would hope to say 'this isn't what we're accustomed to hearing... let the results speak for themselves.' And if indeed we need to do replications with these populations, let's do that rather than going forward with these blinders on.

"There might be some very complex issues. We can't let our biases guide us. What are healthier messages? How can we have healthier messages about our bodies?"

For models wanting to take part, the survey, and instructions on how to add your perspective, is online now at For more information, you can also contact the researchers directly at




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