It seems like every other day another celebrity is being shamed for something, and a lot of the time, it has to do with their weight. Think Kourtney Kardashian being fat-shamed by her then-husband Scott Disick in 2013 for not losing weight “fast enough” after having their third child. Or Jessica Simpson being called out for looking “noticeably fuller” after wearing a pair of high-waisted jeans at a performance in 2009.
Those are both examples studied in a new report published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin that found when celebrities are fat-shamed, more than just the star who’s being targeted feels the effects. It might actually make the general public feel worse about their own bodies too.
Psychologists from McGill University in Montreal compared 20 instances of celebrity fat-shaming with women’s implicit attitudes about weight before and after the event. They found that instances of celebrity fat-shaming were associated with an increase in women’s implicit negative attitudes towards weight.
They explain that implicit attitudes are people’s split-second, gut-level reactions that something is inherently good or bad, while explicit attitudes are those that people are conscious of and are often influenced by concerns about being accepted socially or presenting oneself in a positive light.
“These cultural messages appeared to augment women’s gut-level feeling that ‘thin’ is good and ‘fat’ is bad,” Jennifer Bartz, one of the authors of the study, said in a press release. “These media messages can leave a private trace in peoples’ minds.”
The researchers used data from a Harvard study called Project Implicit, which had participants complete an online “Weight Implicit Association Test” between 2004 to 2015. The researchers then selected 20 celebrity fat-shaming events that were covered by the media within that timeframe. They analyzed over 93,000 female participant’s implicit anti-fat attitudes two weeks before and two weeks after each celebrity fat-shaming event.
They found the fat-shaming events led to a spike in women’s implicit anti-fat attitudes, meaning in the two weeks after a celebrity was publicly fat-shamed, women had more negative gut reactions to being heavier. Events that were more widely known also led to greater spikes in these negative reactions.
It’s important to note that the researchers can’t definitively link an increase in implicit weight bias to specific incidents in the real world with their data. However, previous research has proven how damaging society’s thin ideal can be for women, and this research seems to add to that.
“Weight bias is recognized as one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination,” Amanda Ravary, PhD student and lead author of the study, said in the press release. “These instances of fat-shaming are fairly widespread, not only in celebrity magazines but also on blogs and other forms of social media.”
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