What a Shame, You Have Such a Pretty Face! The Ramifications of Negative Pictorial Stereotypes When Discussing Obesity

By Toni Zoblotsky

Ask just about any attractive overweight female, and inevitably she’s heard more than once in her life from a parent, grandparent or some other older relative in particular…“what a shame about your weight, you have such a pretty face!”   Collective nods are going up from chubby girls all over the country reading this right now.  I used to have a great aunt who would announce this at the dinner table, inevitably at some large family food gathering, like Thanksgiving.  You know the venue—some place where the food was bountiful — but because the chubby girl was sitting there eating it, what an opportune time to tell everyone how I’m just throwing away the fabulous gene pool of a “great face.”   I might have turned beet red, but her words didn’t entice me to change; she just made me dread family outings.  Perhaps it’s a generational thing.  Nowadays, I want to believe we’re too politically correct to call someone out in this embarrassing and public way.  But are we?

It was in this context that the journal article “Obesity Stigma in Online News:  A Visual Content Analysis” by Chelsea Heuer, Kimbery McClure, and Rebecca Puhl, published in the Journal of Health Communication , peaked my interest.  Virtually all would agree on some level that being overweight has negative ramifications to good health and longevity.  Losing weight, most agree, is easier talked about than actually done.  Yet somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our empathy for people that battle this condition and stigmatize or shame them, whether purposely or unintentionally, with unflattering photo depictions that accompany a given story.  We never see pretty faces; instead, we see isolated hands holding ice cream cones or sodas.

In the Heuer et al study, of the 441 online images studied across several major online news outlets, 72% featured at least one negative stereotype in the photo chosen to accompany the story.  Most commonly, the overweight subjects were often pictured with their head cut out of the photo (59%) or shown at an unflattering angle such as from behind (40%), or in ill-fitting/scant clothing (18%). We’ve all seen this.  The point of this type of pictorial framing is that it can lead to negative overweight stereotypes and subconsciously place blame squarely on the subject themselves versus a host of environmental factors that can also attribute to the cause.  On the flip side, critics argue that in not showing the face, you protect the person from further scrutiny.  And further, if being overweight is normalized, people are less likely to do something to remedy the issue.

Perhaps the shaming and this ugly photo portrayal are well-meaning (like my aunt) in that, if you embarrass a person enough, then surely they will try harder to lose weight, but studies have shown that the opposite occurs.  The shaming makes a person less likely to see a doctor and more likely to avoid physical activity. After all, it’s hard to want to join a gym when you are surrounded by attractive people who are half your size and significantly more nimble. In contrast, studies have shown that offering support and acceptance are more conducive to the adoption of a healthier lifestyle.

The topic of obesity is relevant and should continue to be covered.  I would, however, like to see a shift in the way overweight people are visually portrayed in the media.  Let’s take a page out of the Associated Press Statement of News Values and Principles playbook, cited in the Heuer et. al. study, and apply it as gospel.  It states:

“Always and in all media, we insist on the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior when we gather and deliver the news…That means we abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions (2010.)”

A picture may tell a thousand words, but let’s make sure we’re showing the full picture.








Tagged , , , ,

Greenwald vs. Keller. Who is right?

A thought-provoking debate about the role of the journalist and the future of news. 

You don’t have to do it right away, but when we get to the week where we talk about encoding, I’d like you all to weigh in. I’ll remind you then. 



Tagged , ,

Mini Virtual Ethnography of a Social Network

Choose a social network.

Spend 15-20 minutes looking at the content posted on that social network through the eyes of a dispassionate social scientist and jot down some thoughts.  What do the postings tell you about social norms in the culture you live in? What kinds of attitudes/habits/appearances/actions etc. are praised, tolerated, or labeled as deviant? Do you notice anything interesting in regardless to gender/race/class etc.? Comment on this post with a few thoughts about what you observed. 

This is obviously highly informal and unscientific, but maybe it will allow you to briefly observe through a different lens. 

Tagged , ,

Annotated Bibliography Assignment

What *is* an annotated bibliography?

Pretty simple – essentially what you are doing is making notes on the relevant parts of the articles you will read for your literature review.  So, first , make a list of all your sources. Be sure they are formatted properly in APA or Chicago style. Next, You should summarize THE KEY FINDINGS of the studies you have read. Not every detail – the key findings, with special attention to findings that are RELEVANT to your topic. Some books or studies will be almost entirely relevant; for others you may have to find the most relevant parts. You should also answer, as appropriate:

  • Is it significantly similar or different from findings of other studies you read? How does it back up or refute your hypothesis/relate to your research question?

PLEASE WRITE A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF YOUR RESEARCH TOPIC AT THE TOP. Your professor just *might* have forgotten it.

Yes, you can add more sources later, but you should have at least 10 now, made up primarily of academic journal articles.

This is somewhat informal in terms of formatting: Bullet points or short paragraphs fine.

Cornell has a nice guide and I sent you a sample via email.

Tagged ,

Thoughts and links from Toni

I listened to last week’s class and there was some time spent on Fox News…anyway, this I heard about this morning on a radio program and thought it was relevant to the video Bret showed…also relevant to our ongoing conversations about “web commenters.”   This kind of thing sort of makes me feel better—in that, there aren’t perhaps as many crazies out there as I thought, perhaps most of the crazies are being compensated for writing vitriol.  Professional ethics aside, that makes me feel better as a US citizen somehow knowing they are fake.    




And conversely, this same radio program was talking about a Carol Alt health show that now airs on the Fox network.  She was an 80’s supermodel who is an advocate of a raw diet!   And I always thought of her as sort of a hippie—hence my surprise in her being the choice of host.  Perhaps “health” is now “sphere of consensus” topic…which I think is a good thing. 





Lastly, this made me also feel better as a US citizen…the majority of Americans are in the center.  Yay! 



Week 9: Media and Democracy

  1. Are we still Bowling Alone in 2013? Is social capital increasing or decreasing in the age of Facebook etc.? Relate Putnam to what you observe today.
  2. What do you think of public journalism?  How could you “do” public journalism effectively in today’s world…e.g. get readers more engaged in journalism and in the political process?
  3. Is the public acting more as an audience or a participant in the year 2013?  Anybody see any interesting applications in any of the readings to the 2012 election? How do campaigns use the media? 
Tagged ,

Week 7 Uses and Gratifications and the Active Audience

Please answer the following questions in a comment on this post. You can be brief, but please be thoughtful in your response and show me that you have done the reading. 

1.  How do you think newspapers could do a better job of fulfilling the kinds of needs modern consumers have? How might they utilize some of the research in this area? 

2.  Choose one media form you use regularly, whether it is radio, a particular app, a favorite TV show, a publication you read all the time, or whatever. What kinds of needs does it fulfill for you? How do those needs shape the way you use it and the way you feel about it? Do you see any media-related needs you have that remain unmet or aren’t met adequately by your current options?

Feel free to share any other insights from the readings.  

Tagged , , ,

Gender Bias in the News

Check out this piece by reporter Adrienne LaFrance. What do you think? 

Tagged , ,

Paper Topic Assignment


Please be sure to address the following four items. These need to be turned in via email in a Word doc. 

  1. Your research question(s) and/or hypothesis.
  2. Theory or theories you think you will use
  3. Why this is interesting/important to you personally and/or our discipline in general. In other words, answer the “who cares?” question.
  4. Any questions you may have for me.

I do want you to write it out and turn it in even if talk to me about it informally.

May want to do a cursory search on Communication and Mass Media Complete NOT GOOGLE to see if this is a topic you can find something out about.


Tagged ,