The prevalence of media has made it an effective tool to perpetuate societal beauty ideals. Slender ideals have been glorified in different media outlets as it has been reflected mostly by models and actors from magazine covers, TV commercials, and social media platforms. According to Hendricks and Burgoon, heavy exposure to thin media are more likely to promote the internalization of these ideals as part of the norm (qtd. in Kinnally and Vonderen 43). Such ideals are also then internalized not just by the body shape but its association with the perception that thin media are often made and posted by those with higher socioeconomic status (Cui and Qi 7). Moreover, thin ideal media is promoted in ways such that it puts overweight individuals on a negative light which then perpetuates weight stigma.
In 2018, the prevalence of weight stigma urged the World Health Organization to ask the media to stop the negative portrayals of individuals with obesity considering its negative effects to health behaviors (Sushma).
Cosmopolitan Magazine made their first step in promoting body positivity on their October 2018 issue when they decided to feature a plus-sized model on their front cover which then sparked different reactions from the public. Gillette Venus is another company which aims to show beauty of all kinds and sizes as their advertising strategy. Last April 2019, the company reached the public on Twitter by featuring a photo of an obese woman in the beach (Cerullo).
The positive media portrayals of obese individuals mentioned generated different reactions and debate from the public. Some reactions from social media go in favor of these portrayals reiterating that it helps in reducing the prevalence of weight stigma. On the other hand, others condoned and deemed the act as a way of glorifying and normalizing obesity which causes the issue to be overlooked. Moreover, it was perceived by others as dangerous and unhealthy. Thus, contributing further to the existing obesity crisis.
Most studies give focus on the impact of weight stigma and thin ideal media to the health behaviors and weight-loss motivation among the non-overweight population. However, this paper aims to demonstrate the impacts of negative and positive media portrayals of obese models in terms of eating and exercise behaviors; stress levels; and the level of intent to comply to obesity-related health messages among the overweight population. Contrary to notions that weight stigma is an effective approach in inducing weight-loss motivation and healthy practices behavior in order to address obesity crisis, recent studies show that weight stigma becomes a barrier to the efficacy of obesity intervention programs as it negatively impacts the level of intent of compliance to healthy-related messages among the overweight population (Puhl et al 2012b 5). Thus, this study mainly argues that positive portrayals of obese models may be utilized to neutralize weight-based negative stereotypes, thus challenging weight stigma, which then encourage compliance on healthy-behaviors. Therefore, a more positive impact on the efficacy of obesity intervention programs is achieved.
Media has been an effective tool in the promotion and internalization of slender ideals. Though stereotypes linked to racism and sexism have gradually decreased, stereotypes associated with weight stigma are still heavily portrayed and perpetuated (qtd. in Himes & Thompson 712). Hence, positive media portrayals of obese models which contradict societal standards spark weight-biased attitudes from the public. The Cultivation Theory and the Framing Theory are to be used as theoretical bases for the framework of this study.
Individuals with obesity are often associated with negative depictions in health campaigns and as characters in movies and in television programs. According to Gerbner and Gross, the Cultivation Theory suggests the important role of television and other media platforms in shaping common perceptions and beliefs (qtd. in Shrum 1). This theory may then be used to explain as to how heavy exposure to thin ideal media becomes a major contributing factor to the internalization of societal ideals and the establishment of weight-based stereotypes. Also, the Framing Theory suggests that media is an effective tool to present issues or ideas in a way that would influence the audience and initiate the introduction of new concepts and perceptions or the reconstruction of existing opinions regarding an issue (Chong and Druckman 2007a 104). Both theories then imply the efficacy of media as a tool to perpetuate or reconstruct common perceptions depending on the way issues are to be framed.