Horizontal stripes DO make you look fatter, vertical stripes make you seem taller: Woman, 53, wins science award for proving what we knew all along
10:10 GMT, 18 June 2012
A woman who refused to be fobbed off by a study suggesting horizontal stripes had a slimming effect on women's figures has won an amateur scientist award – after proving that, as she believed all along, the stripes actually make women look fatter.
Val Watham, 53, was utterly unconvinced by the findings, released in 2008 by the University of York, which claimed the stripes – known in the fashion world as hoops – flattered the figure.
His research had revealed that horizontal stripes give the impression of making the wearer look taller and thinner thanks to a visual effect called the Helmholtz illusion.
Sceptic: Val Watham, 53, won an amateur scientist award after disproving a recent study that horizontal stripes made the wearer look thinner
To disprove the research, she took to the streets with an army of models dressed in garments bearing both horizontal and vertical stripes – and asked passers-by to rate their figures according to how they looked.
Her own results, presented to an audience and judging panel at the Cheltenham Science Festival this weekend, proved the long held belief that horizontal stripes do indeed make women appear broader, while vertical stripes make the wearer seem taller.
Ms Watham's grass roots research impressed judges of the BBC's Amateur Scientist of the Year award, who handed her first prize, ahead of 1,000 other entrants.
According to the BBC, the judges said Ms Watham's experiment was 'a lovely idea which was well executed, had clear results and leads on to further research. You can't ask more from a science experiment.'
'It was the full package,' said panel member Dr Lucie Green from University College London (UCL).
So You Want To Be A Scientist was run as part of BBC Radio 4's weekly science programme Material World last year.
Experiment: Ms Watham was assisted by fashion students who made garments bearing vertical and horizontal stripes and modelled them on a catwalk in front of members of the public who then rated their appearance
Ms Watham, an organisational consultant from Berkshire, was inspired to enter after reading the University of York study, conducted by Dr Peter Thompson of the university's psychology department.
He showed 2D line drawings of women of identical proportions wearing horizontal and vertical stripes. The women wearing horizontal stripes were deemed thinner.
Ms Watham thought the results would differ in 3D. Students from the University of the Creative Arts made and modelled striped clothing to assist Ms Watham with her experiment. Videos of the models were shown to 500 different people who went on to rate how tall and wide the models looked in each outfit.
As Ms Watham had predicted, when the models wore horizontally striped garments they were deemed to be wider, while vertically striped outfits made them seem taller.
In an interesting conclusion to the the tale, the models wearing the all-black outfits were perceived by the members of the public to be the slimmest of all.
Of the three runners-up in the competition, Izzy Tomlinson, 18, a student from Shropshire, found that women are more sensitive to the sound of nails down a blackboard.
Victory: Ms Watham presented her findings to a panel of judges at the Cheltenham Science Festival on Saturday – and was awarded first place for her 'well-executed' idea. 'It was the full package,' they said