Mary Lee Clark
Body shaming and weight stigmatization often appears on Twitter and can have a negative impact on mental health, according to a study by experts at VCU in conjunction with the Yale School of Medicine and American University.
The study, “Does this tweet make me look fat? A content analysis of weight stigma on Twitter,” analyzed 4,596 different tweets which contained the word “fat” within four-hour period.
Postdoctoral Associate at the Yale School of Medicine and VCU alumna Janet Lydecker was a researcher in the study. Lydecker and her team aggregated 5,000 tweets containing the word “fat”, then went back and removed tweets that weren’t in English or were retweets.
Of the 4,596 tweets the researchers analyzed, they found that 56.57 percent were “negative” and 32.09 percent were deemed “neutral.” Of the “negative” tweets, themes associated with fatness included gluttonous, unattractive, not sexually desirable, sedentary, lazy and stupid.
Linda Hancock, the director of the Wellness Resource Center at VCU, said fat shaming is all over social media and it’s a “no-brainer” this sort of stigma contributes to negative body images and eating disorders.
“Culture affects everything that we do,” Hancock said. “Any message, whether it’s TV, online, comments by other people or social media — they all affect our self-image.”
Hancock said people are more likely to believe in messages they read or comments they hear than believing in themselves. She said if someone is a victim of shaming or bullying the best thing for them to do is to talk to someone about it.
“What you keep in the dark has power over you. What you bring into the light, you have power over,” Hancock said.
Lydecker said it is important to be aware of weight stigma and where it is likely to show its face. She believes her research will help psychologists realize weight-stigma is not limited to television and magazines, but is common in social media sites like Twitter as well.
“When people are aware of weight stigma and know it is unacceptable, that can take some of the power away from hurtful attitudes and words, “ said Lydecker.
To get more information about body image or cyberbullying, contact the Wellness Resource Center [email protected] or 804-828-9355. To seek counseling on body image or eating disorders call the counseling center at 804-828-6200.