The Problem With The Way We Talk About "Fat" On Social Media

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
It gets nasty out there on social media — especially for women. And when it comes to weight-shaming, there's new research to prove just how nasty.

For the study, published online earlier this month, researchers collected all the tweets containing the word "fat" in one afternoon on Twitter. That ended up being 4,569 tweets — about 5.5% of all tweets during that time frame. Then, they analyzed those tweets based on whether they were positive or negative, if they were directed at the tweeter or someone else, and if there were any pro-eating-disorder phrases in there.

Results showed, unfortunately, that the majority of tweets weren't full of positive body confidence. Over half (57%) were overtly negative, while another 32% were neutral. Although gender didn't always matter, negative tweets and pro-thinness tweets were significantly more likely to be about women than men. Women were also more likely to be on the receiving end of positive but sexualizing tweets (e.g. "This steak fat & juicy. The way I like all my women"), which isn't exactly better.

These results are probably no surprise to any woman who's been on social media for more than 15 minutes. Still, the researchers specifically wanted to know the kinds of messages young, vulnerable women were exposed to on Twitter, and it's disheartening to see just how much negativity they're bombarded by — especially, the authors argue, because those tweets may fuel disordered eating.

Of course, this is a reflection of larger issues in our culture, but on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, those issues seem to be magnified. "On social media, people are cultivating a self-image which might not have anything to do with their real image," said one of the study's authors, Suzanne Mazzeo, PhD, in a press release. "Our bodies do great things for us, and we should focus on what our bodies can do, rather than what they look like."

And — reminder — when it comes to what we're doing, size tends to matter way less than we think.
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.

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