Shaping the Body Politic: Mass Media Fat-Shaming Affects Implicit Anti-Fat Attitudes

Amanda Ravary, Mark W. Baldwin, Jennifer A. Bartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations

Abstract

The human psyche is profoundly shaped by its cultural milieu; however, few studies have examined the dynamics of cultural influence in everyday life, especially when it comes to shaping people’s automatic, implicit attitudes. In this quasi-experimental field study, we investigated the effect of transient, but salient, cultural messages—the pop-cultural phenomenon of celebrity “fat-shaming”—on implicit anti-fat attitudes in the population. Adopting the “copycat suicide” methodology, we identified 20 fat-shaming events in the media; next, we obtained data from Project Implicit of participants who had completed the Weight Implicit Association Test from 2004 to 2015. As predicted, fat-shaming led to a spike in women’s (N=93,239) implicit anti-fat attitudes, with events of greater notoriety producing greater spikes. We also observed a general increase in implicit anti-fat attitudes over time. Although these passing comments may appear harmless, we show that feedback at the cultural level can be registered by the “body politic”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1580-1589
Number of pages10
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Volume45
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • anti-fat bias
  • attitudes
  • culture
  • implicit
  • mass media

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