While it's true that Americans as a whole have put on significant amounts of weight in the past 50 years and many are feeling the negative health effects, there's a big difference between supporting and encouraging healthy weight loss and participating in malicious fat shaming. Although disdain for the overweight in modern society can be traced back as far as the mid-1800s, the anonymity of the internet and the image-obsessed culture of social media have made it easier for people to judge and ridicule each other based on their size and appearance alone.
To look at the state of body shaming on social media, we analyzed over 17,000 fat shaming–related tweets to find out where the stigma is most prevalent and what kinds of language shamers use most often.
Which States Are the Most Notorious for Body Shaming?
When looking at the number of fat shaming–related tweets per 1 million people in each state, a handful of states emerge as the biggest bullies. Wyoming doled out approximately 1.7 tweets, and Vermont nearly 1.6. Interestingly, Vermont has one of the lowest rates of adult obesity in America, and Wyoming has one of the lowest rates of childhood obesity, which may make residents of these states feel more justified in dishing out the body shame. On the other end of the spectrum, the states with the lowest incidence of fat-shaming tweets were California and Texas.
What Are Haters Saying?
The fat-shaming terms and phrases used in tweets ranged from the generic, like "lose weight" (the most common), to the downright cruel, with terms like "fat b--ch" and "lard a--" coming up disturbingly often. But whatever the shamers' choice of words or reasons, studies show they don't actually influence weight loss. People who are mocked or shamed for their weight are not any more likely to lose weight than before – and they may be even more prone to gain it, due to comfort eating and an increased reluctance to exercise.
Which Are the Top 3 States for Fat Hate Insults?
Breaking the fat-shaming terms and phrases down by the states where they're most popular, Wyoming, Alaska, Rhode Island, and Hawaii all claimed two No. 1 spots. Alaska tweeted the phrase "fat b--ch" more often than any other state, perhaps underscoring its troubling pattern of sexual assault against women. Overall, "fat b--ch" was more commonly used than "fat boy," which was most popular in Delaware. While men are encouraged to rock "dad bods" and aren't, on average, discriminated against until gaining nearly 70 pounds, women experience serious weight bias for gaining as little as 13.
What's the Global Perspective on Body Shaming?
Worldwide, approximately 13% of people are obese (compared with over 34% in the United States), but that doesn't mean other countries are free from fat shaming. On the contrary, tweets containing phrases like "stop eating" and "lose weight" popped up all around the globe.
It's worth noting that in some places like Jamaica and Nigeria, big is beautiful, and people, especially women, actively try to gain weight. However, this can lead to unhealthy practices and even body shaming in the opposite direction, where women are shamed for being too thin and are sometimes forced to undergo drastic measures to plump up.
Where in the World Is Fat Shaming?
Looking at where fat-shaming phrases were found around the world, perhaps one of the biggest surprises is their prevalence in Asia. The Philippines, for example, showed a number of tweets with the phrase "binge eating," and the words "stop eating" were common there and in Malaysia. Experts have pointed out that Asian countries have seen a sharp rise in eating disorders in the last 20 years, and fat shaming in that region is often par for the course.
But the worldwide data are perhaps most telling in the frequent and widespread use of the phrase "fat and ugly" – the two terms have become nearly interchangeable in modern society, creating a regrettable breeding ground for fat shaming that threatens to undermine the health, both physical and psychological, of a generation.
While healthy eating and exercise habits (like regularly using the best ellipticals) are a noble pursuit, shaming people into changing their activities is as ineffective as it is insensitive. There's no one-size-fits-all solution to the weight question, but it certainly starts with an increased measure of respect and acceptance for every body, in every size.
We compiled a list of fat hate and body shaming related–phrases and pulled mentions of these words from Twitter. We then analyzed the data and visualized the results. Per capita calculations were based on state and U.S. populations. For location information, we paired some tweets with small bounding boxes as geotagged data. These bounding boxes are provided to anonymize data and are actually quite small (about the size of a few city blocks); we averaged the coordinates of these bounding boxes to obtain the center point, which we used for our geographical data.
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