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

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2019 Nov;45(11):1580-1589. doi: 10.1177/0146167219838550. Epub 2019 Apr 14.


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."

Keywords: anti-fat bias; attitudes; culture; implicit; mass media.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Culture
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Media*
  • Obesity
  • Self Report
  • United States
  • Weight Prejudice*
  • Young Adult