Celebrity Fat-Shaming Drives Up Anti-Fat Attitudes In Women, Study Shows

“These cultural messages appeared to augment women’s gut-level feeling that ‘thin’ is good and ‘fat’ is bad."
Kourtney Kardashian attends the 2018 LACMA Art+Film Gala at LACMA on November 3, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Kourtney Kardashian attends the 2018 LACMA Art+Film Gala at LACMA on November 3, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.

Remember when the late fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld, called singer Adele "a little too fat" in 2012? Or when a fashion critic said of "Mad Men" star, Christina Hendricks, that 'you don't put a big girl in a big dress?'

These instances of celebrity fat-shaming, among a myriad of others, negatively affect how women feel about their weight, according to a new study from McGill University published Monday in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Researchers compared 20well-known celebrity fat-shaming momentsthat were publicized in the media between 2007-2015with women's implicit attitudes about weight, both before and after the events.

Adele performs onstage during The 59th Grammy Awards at Staples Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Adele performs onstage during The 59th Grammy Awards at Staples Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

The fat-shaming events included the Adele and Christina Hendricks examples, as well as Tyra Banks being shamed for wearing a bathing suit on vacation in 2007, and when Kourtney Kardashian's hubby Scott Disick didn't think she was losing her pregnancy weight quickly enough in 2014.

The researchers obtained data from the public website, Project Implicit, from participants who had completed the Weight Implicit Association Test, an index of implicit anti-fat bias.

Results showed that celebrity fat-shaming resulted in a spike in more than 90,000 women's implicit anti-fat thinking.Implicit weight bias also increased between the years of 2004 and 2015, potentially showing that weight discrimination could be getting worse.

What does 'implicit' vs. 'explicit' bias mean?

Jennifer Bartz, one of the authors of the study, told HuffPost Canada that "explicit attitudes" are those that people consciously and publiclyendorse, while implicit attitudes — which were the focus of this investigation — reflect people's gut-level reactions that translate into thinking something is inherently good or bad.

"We know people are profoundly influenced by what others say and do, but this kind of social influence is difficult to document as it plays out in society at large," said Bartz. "We observed a spike in women's implicit anti-fat attitudes in the two weeks following a fat-shaming event, compared to the two weeks preceding an event."

"These cultural messages appeared to augment women's gut-level feeling that 'thin' is good and 'fat' is bad," said Bartz. "These media messages can leave a private trace in peoples' minds."

Amanda Ravary, PhD student and lead author of the study noted that weight bias is recognized as one of the last socially acceptable forms of discrimination.

"These instances of fat-shaming are fairly wide-spread not only in celebrity magazines but also on blogs and other forms of social media," said Ravary.

Poet and writer Priyanka Saju, who told HuffPost Canada that she has long struggled with her own anti-fat bias and body image when she was younger and less self-assured, noted that she too was not immune from these messages.

"When these media outlets use a celebrity's weight, or more specifically fatness, to diminish her, it sends a message to women that fat bodies are wrong. These media messages show us all that the consequence of being fat is public shame and ridicule," said Saju.

"I mean, if even the most powerful and admired in society — celebrities — are not immune from this this form of discrimination, then what does that mean for us mere mortals?"

Amanda Scriver, a freelance journalist and body image advocate, told HuffPost Canada that fat-shaming celebrities sets the standard for how we view bodies in Western culture.

"All too often, people realize too late that no amount of weight loss or body alterations will actually free them from feeling like they are good enough. We need to teach people how and why they don't need to change their bodies, and this starts with media setting the tone for fat positivity and body neutrality."

Saju said that ironically, a big part of feeling more comfortable in her skin and expanding her own definition of beauty has come from social media.

"There are so many accounts, writers, artists, thinkers and activists out there who are spreading a more inclusive idea of beauty — one that includes fat women," said the writer. "I have been spending more time online exposing myself to the celebration of these bodies. In a way, it has given me permission to show up for myself and hopefully give permission to others to take up space."

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