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Body Image. 2008 Jun;5(2):141-51. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2007.11.004. Epub 2008 May 5.

Portrayal of body weight on children's television sitcoms: a content analysis.

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  • 1Department of Communications, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602, USA.


Television programs portray characters with idealized body types that for most viewers are unattainable. These body types have become a common source of comparison for many young viewers who evaluate their own self-worth and bodies based on the models they see on television. This study examines body weight, both in terms of frequency and portrayals, focusing on how preadolescent and adolescent characters' bodies are presented on the sitcoms from three children's television networks. The results indicate that while children's situation comedies have relatively few overweight characters, this small percentage closely parallels national figures. Male and female characters do not differ in their distribution across weight categories. However, when character ethnicity is factored, significant shifts occur. Surprisingly, no differences were observed in the portrayal of physical and mental attributes among weight categories except in social popularity where overweight characters were not as embedded in social networks. Compared to other relevant studies, this research provides some evidence that the treatment and portrayal of overweight characters in children-targeted sitcoms is more positive, equitable, and less stereotypical than in other programming venues and that children are experiencing body type diversity in these fictional portrayals. Nonetheless, above average weight characters still suffer some social marginality and ethnic misrepresentation.

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