Weighing the risks: fat experiences of weight stigma during COVID-19

Fortune, Kaitlyn (2023) Weighing the risks: fat experiences of weight stigma during COVID-19. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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The bodily control of women is a core part of patriarchal systems, which can be seen today through diet culture and its dissemination via social media. This project examines the experiences of weight stigma during the COVID-19 pandemic by those assigned female at birth (AFAB) and female TikTok users. This project seeks to answer the following: How does COVID-19 complicate an existing discussion around the effects of weight stigma on the social and physical well-being of women and AFAB individuals who are likely to experience misogyny? How does social media use affect experiences of weight stigma for fat individuals, who may be subjected to misogyny, and their ability to cope with the impact of such stigma? In other words, what does it mean to have a body deemed part of an epidemic, amidst a pandemic? This project utilizes two forms of qualitative methods, in-depth interviews and a TikTok content analysis. Research included 13 interview participants and analysis of 5 TikTok content creators. My findings demonstrate that an increase in body neutrality/acceptance content on TikTok during COVID-19 was matched with an increase in engagement with and adoption of these principles. Participants also reported a change in the type of weight stigma they experienced; fewer in-person experiences of stigmatization, with a greater emphasis on social media based stigmatization. While there was a reported decrease in experiences of certain types of weight stigma, new and different types of weight stigma emerged during COVID-19. Further, my results explain that due to its unique algorithmic function, TikTok was the only social media platform capable of producing such rapid social change for body acceptance over expectations of thinness within the span of the pandemic, and through this, was able to create a growing dialogue counter to hegemonic understandings of health and fatness. This project does not suggest that TikTok is free from the negative effects of social media; the novel finding of this project is that there can be positive experiences of community building and engagement on apps like TikTok. By exploring how participants were able to find and cultivate online communities that support protection and aid against stigma, researchers can apply these principles to other systematic social issues to determine whether the same kind of digital community is helpful in other instances. The implications of this study are a) understanding of TikTok as an educational platform and b) increased knowledge of algorithmic or short video social media as potentially positive to body image and self-worth.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/16095
Item ID: 16095
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 173-182)
Keywords: weight stigma, bodies, gender, COVID-19, fat studies
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Sociology
Date: October 2023
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): https://doi.org/10.48336/AEBT-NV11
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Body image; Human body--social aspects; COVID-19 (Disease); Social media; Stigma (Social psychology)

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