Jun 24, 2019 | Updated: 04:51 PM EDT

The Rise of Implicit Weight Bias Due to Celebrity Fat-Shaming

Apr 15, 2019 02:14 PM EDT

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The Rise of Implicit Weight Bias Due to Celebrity Fat-Shaming
(Photo : Image by Tumisu from Pixabay)

The public has routinely criticized female celebrities, particularly about their appearance. Indeed, the reasonably normal pop-cultural phenomenon is the celebrity 'fat-shaming.' Though these comments may seem inconsequential and trivial, the effects of these messages can extend well beyond the population at large.

That is why after comparing 20 examples of celebrity fat-shaming with women's implicit attitudes about weight before and after the event, psychologists from McGill University, in a research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, discovered the connection between the instances of celebrity fat-shaming with an increase in women's implicit negative weight-related attitudes.

Also found by the researchers was the fact that from 2004 to 2015, implicit weight bias was on the rise more generally.

Explicit attitudes are those that individuals consciously endorse and based on another study, are most times influenced by concerns about social desirability and presenting oneself in the most favorable light. As the focus of this study, implicit attitudes, by contrast, reflects people's split-second gut-level reactions that something is inherently good or bad.

One of the authors of the study, Jennifer Bartz, said that these powerful messages seemed to augment women's gut-level feeling that thin is good and fat is bad. These media messages can leave a private-trace in people's minds.

Along with her collaborators, Bartz obtained data from Project Implicit of subjects who completed the online Weight Implicit Association Test from 2004 to 2015. The team selected 20 celebrity fat-shaming events that were noted in the popular media, including Tyra Banks being shamed for her body in 2007 while wearing a bathing suit on vacation and Kourtney Kardashian being fat-shamed by her husband for not losing her post-pregnancy baby weight quickly enough in 2014.

For two weeks before and after, they analyzed women's implicit anti-fat attitudes after each celebrity fat-shaming event.

Though it is hard for the researcher to make a connection with an increase in implicit weight bias to specific adverse incidents in the real world with their data, other research has revealed culture's emphasis on the thin ideal can contribute to eating disorders, which are particularly prevalent among young women.

The lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student, Amanda Ravary, said that there is recognition of weight bias as one of the least socially acceptable forms of discrimination. She claimed that these examples of fat-shaming are fairly widespread not only in celebrity magazines but also on blogs and other forms of social media.

The next step for the research is the inclusion of lab research where the researchers can manipulate exposure to fat-shaming messages against neutral messages. They will then assess the effect of these messages on women's implicit anti-fat attitudes. This future study could offer more direct evidence for the causal role of these social messages on implicit views of the people.

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