Television Situation Comedies: Female Body Images and Verbal Reinforcements

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Abstract

A content analysis of 28 different prime-time television situation comedies examined the body weights of 52 central female characters (88% White, 10% Black, 2% Asian), the verbal comments they received from other characters as a function of body weight, and their self-comments with respect to their own body weight, shape and dieting behaviors. Compared with the general population, below average central female characters were over-represented in situation comedies; above average weight characters were under-represented. Below average weight female characters received significantly more positive verbal comments from male characters with regards to body weight and shape than their heavier counterparts. Dieting female characters gave themselves significantly more verbal punishment for their body weight and shape than those less involved in dieting. This combination of modeling the thin ideal and the verbal reinforcement associated with this modeling likely contributes to the internalization of the thin ideal and may put some young female viewers at risk for developing eating disorders.

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