Reader Chris let me know about this study, in which researchers worked with “men and women” (cis being presumed, no mention of trans or nonbinary people) in a remote area of Nicaragua who had either regular access to television or no access to television, all of whom had basically no access to magazines or the internet.
The breakdown was stark – those without television access preferred larger bodies, those who watched TV preferred thinner bodies.
They did a further experiment, showing the villagers a series of pictures of larger or thinner women, and found that after seeing the images, their preferences adjusted in the same direction.
While one of the study’s authors had found the same effect in women in Western Societies previously, this had never been tested in non-industrial societies.
Study Co-author, Dr Jean-Luc Juckers said
“This study, utilizing a range of quantitative and qualitative research methods with non-Western participants, provides yet more empirical evidence that the mass media impact female body size ideals.”
Co-Author Dr. Tracey Thornborrow explained
“Our findings clearly demonstrate that perceptions of attractiveness are highly changeable, and are affected by what we are visually exposed to.”
This is important because of those people (who are often benefiting from the status quo) who insist that the fact that fat people don’t have positive representation in the media doesn’t have any negative effects.
It is harmful to us to not have positive representation, but it also perpetuates fatphobia as the media teaches people to see fat bodies in a negative light, even while they try to tell themselves that it’s natural to think those things about fat bodies.
This seemed particularly appropriate to talk about in light of the Golden Globes tonight, hosted by noted fatphobic, transphobic, ableist defender-of-white-dudes-using-the-n-word human trash pile Ricky Gervais, and the extreme lack of fat people nominated (which doesn’t really set fat people apart from other marginalized groups including People of Color, Trans and non-binary people, and cis-women except in gendered categories that are specifically for them and exclude those who don’t fit into a strict gender binary.)
This is a direct reflection of the perpetuation of the thin beauty ideal. In the US, those who cast performers often cast first and foremost based on the performer’s ability to meet a stereotype of beauty rooted in cis, het, thin, white, able-bodiedness (unless the part specifically calls for something different, in which case it’s often rooted in negative stereotypes.) When it comes to fat people this robs us of the opportunity to have and be positive representation.
The truth is that thinness isn’t important at all. You could replace almost any leading role with a fat performer and the only thing that would actually have to change is people’s fatphobia at the thought of a fat performer in a leading role.
The study’s lead author, Professor Lynda Boothroyd, summed it up nicely:
“TV and advertising bosses have a moral responsibility to use actors, presenters and models of all shapes and sizes and avoid stigmatising larger bodies. There needs to be a shift towards a ‘health at every size’ attitude and the media has an important role to play in that.”
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Speaking of fat performers, I’ll be doing a stand-up comedy set as a guest performer at the FATCH – the Fat Sketch Comedy Group’s New Year, Same You show on January 10th at 9pm at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater on Sunset in Los Angeles. Tickets and info can be found here (Accessibility info: there is a fat-friendly bench in the front, the rest of the seating is stadium theater seats with arms up at least one step. The venue is wheelchair accessible, but there is limited space for wheelchairs.)
In case you missed it, my adorable dog and I have a poem to help you resolve (for the first time, or again) to ditch diets. I’m having fun doing videos like this so there will definitely be more – if you want to make sure not to miss future videos, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel!
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Book and Dance Class Sale! I’m on a journey to complete an IRON-distance triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here! (DancesWithFat Members get an even better deal, make sure to make your purchases from the Members Page!)
Book Me! I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!
I’m (still!) training for an Iron-distance triathlon! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com .
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3 thoughts on “Study Shows That Watching TV Creates A Preference For Thinness, Golden Globes Demonstrate It”
First I have to say thank you for being the wonderful you…. you are. I just wanted to comment on this blog, even though I have read all of them. I thought this was fascinating.
I am an older women who has been a fat advocate…more Health at Every Size advocate, since I was old enough to know about it. I grew up a large women surrounded by tiny women in my family. So I started long ago understanding and advocating.
This blog speaks so clearly how prejudiced is a learned behavior. I like the evidence based background, but truly, anyone who has lived any length of time will say we learn to hate.
So if we learn to be prejudiced, then we can learn to accept. When I was growing up, to have some meat on your bones was more accepted than being too skinny. Then Twiggy came along, and the parameters shifted. It is the tale of time.
The reason I am writing is to encourage you to keep doing what you do. Educate people. Teach them new parameters. Teach acceptance. There is hope…..
Thank you – for the activism you’ve done and are doing, for the encouragement to keep joining you in that, and for the reminder that there is hope! I’m glad to be doing this work with you!
All we can do is show the facts. Over and over and over and let people think they choose their preferences, or worse that they are innate. Mhnm. born hating fat bodies? Really? We’re only up against a billion dollar industry determined to keep itself relevant (money raking) and entrenched fat bias people need to navigate their way through the confusing world of human value, food politics, sexism and fear.
Still, it isn’t 1952 anywhere, no matter how hard the “Let’s go back to the good old days” crew fight on.
Just keep on keeping on. If a little bit of truth and non-bigoted analysis helps ONE PERSON, you’ve saved the world.