Weight Stigma & Internet Memes

The last week in February was Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and my fab colleagues Dr. Nova Deighton-Smith and Glen Jankowski worked really hard to bring a host of activities and talks to Leeds Beckett. When Glen asked me if I wanted to speak about appearance/body image and memes, I was a) delighted and b) totally baffled. I’m not a body image researcher! I don’t know about eating disorders! I have no idea what I’m doing!

I Have No Idea What I'm Doing

Gonna be honest, that meme sums up a lot of PhD life and “real” life.

Anyway. Never one to be put off doing something because I don’t know what I’m doing, I went back to my work on memes and started looking more closely at the appearance related humour in my sample. Humour both targeting appearance and using appearance/visuals as part of the joke was present throughout the sample, and humour stigmatising weight was a major factor in this. Not really a surprise, when Burmeister & Carels (2014) remind us that obesity is one of very few stigmatised conditions that remains “fair game”.

I was curious to see what a Google Image search would turn up for “fat memes” and I’ll admit, I was kinda comforted to see not only characters from my original sample but also direct like-for-like examples in the results – my sampling strategy must have worked, haha! Again, it wasn’t really a surprise to see the kinds of gendered, classed and raced humour coming through alongside the weight stigma in the memes Google brought back – all playing into the all too familiar ways of talking about weight. Being fat is undesirable, especially for women as it’s your job to be skinny and sexually available. Fat people are to blame for being fat – it’s their fault, they are lazy and make terrible life choices. Oh yeah, and it’s their duty to get thin because think about the health implications. You know, the usual stuff.

Never wanting to end on a “the Internet is horrible place” note, I took the opportunity to have a look for some body positive memes. Internet, you did not fail me! I’m pleased to say that Fat Acceptance Frenchie is a thing, and is maaaaybe my new favourite advice animal. To be honest there’s a lot of great, body positive viral content about at the minute, such as the fabulous artwork from Carol Rossetti.

I think the talk went pretty well, and it was great to catch up with some other Leeds Beckett researchers (such as the lovely Jocelyn Murtell, who is doing some really interesting work around selfies!) If you’re curious or nosey, you can download the slides from my talk in .pdf format here.

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