Fat Shaming in the Media: Does it Work?

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According to a new study done by the University of California, Santa Barbara, the focus the media places on obesity could actually be more harmful than it is helpful. “Fat shaming” is a relatively new term that involves putting overweight people in a critical and judgmental light. When overweight females are exposed to negative media stories that characterize obesity as the results of being lazy, weak or self-indulgent, they are likely to feel hurt, frustrated and anxious. These emotions can be harmful and result in making a person engage in overeating.

What is Fat Shaming?

Hollywood is filled with what society idealizes as beautiful. In a land where thin, young, rich and pretty are the ideal of beauty-it’s no great surprise that anyone who doesn’t fit into these ideals is considered unattractive and undesirable. However, the new term “fat shaming” has become somewhat of a national sport and it’s taking a toll on people everywhere. While it’s clear fat shaming isn’t helping anyone, it turns out it can cause poor body image and be physically harmful as well. People who are made to feel ashamed about their body will have poorer overall health and it doesn’t matter how much or how little they weigh.


According to the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Society, “America’s war on obesity has intensified stigmatization of overweight and obese individuals”. The researchers wanted to test whether reading negative weight related messages in news articles would have a negative impact on women who think of themselves as overweight.

Ultimately, these types of messages reduced a woman’s self-control to avoid high caloric foods and she would engage in emotional eating.
Brenda Major, lead researchers, told HealthDaily News that she wanted to find out the consequences of covering obesity related issues.

Most American people agree that obesity is a serious public health issue, but attitudes are mixed about how to best handle it. For Major, the way obesity is covered in the media is an important part of the debate.

She notes,” There’s a frenzy about obesity in the media and there’s a negative, moralistic tone to the coverage. We wondered if the same things that increase feelings of stigma actually cause you to eat more.”

Although the study group was small, Major’s and her fellow colleagues tested 93 college students who considered themselves to be overweight, her findings resonate previous research done on the topic. A 2008 study was performed detailing the media’s propensity to expose stories about the negative consequences of obesity, and place the stress on blaming the person for the public health issues. Other studies have proven fat shaming tends to lead someone who is overweight to gain more weight and that focusing on nutrition is a more positive approach which encourages healthy behavior.

In Conclusion

Despite living in a society that places such high regard on having the perfect body and cover girl looks, not everyone has to or should want to live up to that unhealthy and unrealistic ideal. Ostracizing those who are overweight isn’t an effective public health strategy, even though some campaigns have relied on it. The media usually walks a fine line with trying to remain neutral when discussing topics related to obesity. However, public figures often wind up becoming a source of ridicule and held up for public scrutiny if they don’t conform to what society views as attractive-which is very, very sad!


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