Television Situation Comedies: Female Weight, Male Negative Comments, and Audience Reactions

Abstract

A content analysis of 18 prime-time television situation comedies (two episodes each) examined the body weights of 37 central female characters (92% White, 8% Black), the negative comments they received from male characters about their weight or bodies, and the audience reactions (e.g., laughter) following the negative comments. It was found that (a) below-average weight females were overrepresented in the programs, (b) the heavier the female character, the significantly more negative comments were made about or to her, and (c) negative comments were significantly associated with audience reactions. These results indicate that situation comedies present males making derogatory remarks about heavier women's weights and bodies, with this behavior being reinforced by audience laughter. This combination of thinness modeling and vicarious reinforcement likely contributes to the internalization of gender and weight stereotypes which deleteriously affect the health of female adolescents.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

REFERENCES

  1. Aronfreed, J. (1968). Conduct and conscience: The socialization of internalized control over behavior. New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Bandura, A. (1965). Influence of model's reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1, 589–595.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of behavioral modification. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice–Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Barcus, F. E. (1983). Images of life on children's television. New York: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Chapman, A. J. (1976). Social aspects of humorous laughter. In A. J. Chapman & H. C. Foot (Eds.), Humour and laughter: Theory, research and applications. London: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Courtney, A. E., & Whipple, T. W. (1983). Sex stereotyping in advertising. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Dietz, W. H. (1990). You are what you eat: What you eat is what you are. Journal of Adolescent Health Care, 11(1), 76–81.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Downs, A. C., & Harrison, S. K. (1985). Embarrassing age spots or just plain ugly? Physical attractiveness stereotyping as an instrument of sexism on American television commercials. Sex Roles, 13, 9–19.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Fallon, A. E., & Rozin, P. (1985). Sex differences in perceptions of desirable body shape. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94(1), 102–105.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Fouts, G. (1977). Effect of television on children and youth: A developmental approach. In Report of the Royal Commission on Violence in the Communications Industry, Vol. 6. (pp. 1–23). Province of Ontario: Royal Commission on Violence in the Communications Industry.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Fouts, G., & Burggraf, K. (1997). Body perception and dieting: mothers and television as models. Paper presented to the Western Psychological Association, Seattle, Apr.

  13. Fouts, G., & Burggraf, K. (1999). Television situation comedies: Female body images and verbal reinforcements. Sex Roles, 40(5/6), 473–481.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Garner, D. M., Garfinkel, P. E., & Olmsted, M. (1983). An overview of sociocultural factors in the development of anorexia nervosa. In P. L. Darby et al. (Eds.). Anorexia nervosa: Recent developments in research. New York: A. R. Liss.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Harris, M. B., Walters, L. C., & Waschull, S. (1991). Gender and ethnic differences in obesityrelated behaviors and attitudes in a college sample. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 21(19), 1545–1566.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Harrison, K., & Cantor, J. (1997). The relationship between media consumption and eating disorders. Journal of Communication, 47(1), 40–67.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Kaufman, L. (1980). Prime-time nutrition. Journal of Communication, 30, 37–46.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Levine, M. P., Smolak, L., & Hayden, H. (1994). The relation of socio-cultural factors to eating attitudes and behaviors among middle school girls. Journal of Early Adolescence, 14(4), 471–490.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Liebert, R. M., & Sprafkin, J. (1988). The early window: Effects of television on children and youth (3rd ed.) Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Mercer, J., & Fouts, G. (1978). Effects of canned laughter on children's humour responding. Paper presented to the Canadian Psychological Association, Ottawa, June.

  21. National Center for Health Statistics, U.S.A. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Health Examination Statistics. http://www.cdc.gov/nchswww/data.

  22. Ogletree, S. M., Williams, S. W., Raffeld, P., Mason, B., & Fricke, K. (1990). Female attractiveness and eating disorders: Do children's television commercials play a role? Sex Roles, 22(11/12), 791–797.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Rodin, J., Silberstein, L., & Striegel-Moore, R. (1984) Women and weight: A normative discontent. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 32, 267–307.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Salmons, P. H., Lewis, V. J., Rogers, P., Gatherer, A. J. H., & Booth, D. A. (1988). Body shape dissatisfaction in school children. British Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 27–31.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Signorielli, N. (1986). Television and conceptions about sex-roles: Maintaining conventionality and the status quo, Unpublished manuscript. Philadelphia, PA: Annenburg School of Communications, Signorielli, N., McLeod, D., & Healy, E. (1994). Gender stereotypes in MTV commercials: The beat goes on. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 38(1), 91–101.

  26. Silverstein, B., Perdue, L., Peterson, B., & Kelly, I. (1986). The role of mass media in promoting a thin standard of bodily attractiveness for women. Sex Roles, 14, 519–532.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Statistics Canada (1994). The National Population Health Survey. http://www.statcan.ca.

  28. Stice, E. (1994). Review of the evidence for a sociocultural model of bulimia nervosa and an exploration of the mechanisms of action. Clinical Psychology Review, 14(7), 633–661.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Stice, E., Schupak-Neuberg, E., Shaw, H. E., & Stein, R. I. (1994). Relation of media exposure to eating disorder symptomatology: An examination of mediating mechanisms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 103(4), 836–840.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. Toro, J., Salamero, M., & Martinez, E. (1994). Assessment of sociocultural influences on the aesthetic body shape model in anorexia nervosa. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 89, 147–151.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Zemach, T., & Cohen, A. A. (1986). Perception of gender equality on television and in social reality. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 30(4), 427–444.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Fouts, G., Burggraf, K. Television Situation Comedies: Female Weight, Male Negative Comments, and Audience Reactions. Sex Roles 42, 925–932 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1007054618340

Download citation

Keywords

  • Body Weight
  • Social Psychology
  • Content Analysis
  • Female Adolescent
  • Male Character