For overweight people—especially overweight women—Twitter can be an unfriendly place. Eating-disorder researcher Janet Lydecker ’06 has the data to prove it.
While training in clinical psychology, Lydecker noticed that her adolescent patients frequently mentioned their use of Twitter and other social media. This gave her the idea for a study: She and six other researchers searched for tweets that included the word “fat,” gathered 4,596 of them over a four-hour period and then analyzed their themes.
The study, “Does This Tweet Make Me Look Fat?,” published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders, found that more than 56 percent of these tweets conveyed negative messages, while about 32 percent were neutral and less than 12 percent were positive.
The negative tweets associated being fat with being gluttonous, unattractive, sexually undesirable, sedentary, lazy and stupid. “Women were more likely to be targeted with weight-stigmatizing messages—especially about unattractiveness—compared with men,” Lydecker says.
Similar weight stigma has long been apparent in traditional media. Social media sites, however, are a relatively new frontier for psychologists—and an important one to study, considering the major role they play in the daily lives of millions of young people.