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Drugs & Health Blog

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

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Elisabeth Burton

Elisabeth Burton, 2012 NIDA Addiction Science Fair Award Winner

About 4 years ago, my good friend tried to die by suicide; the reason behind it? She felt like she didn’t match up to the women you see in magazines; she felt like she wasn’t beautiful or skinny enough. The thing about these pictures: The models themselves don’t even look like their pictures—they are Photoshopped.

My name is Elisabeth Burton, Liz, and I’m a high school junior in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. I received the third place NIDA Addiction Science Fair award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in 2012 for my project on how media images influence our perception of our bodies. Because of my friend, I started noticing how often other girls and I talk about our bodies negatively. Mimi Nichter, Ph.D., an anthropologist at the University of Arizona, labeled this activity “Fat Talk,” a kind of social ritual among friends, where girls complain about their bodies as a call for support from their peers.

It’s Not Just Girls

Jessica Alba

Jessica Alba before and after Photoshop

Last year, I learned that the media affects girls in more ways than they realize. From my research, I found that the more girls talk “fat,” the more they perceive Photoshopped media images as attainable and real, lowering their body satisfaction.

This year, I learned that guys have this issue as well. They see Photoshopped images in the media that send the message that you need to be more muscular, more buff. I have found that some boys engage in something similar to “Fat Talk,” but instead of wanting to be skinnier, they aim to be bigger, buffer. I call this, “Buff Talk.”

When talking to some guys, I found that they feel a need to be more muscular, especially in sports, and this is leading to pressure to take steroids. The girls I talked to felt similar pressure, to purge (throw up after eating) and to take diet pills. I then began to wonder if Buff and Fat Talk, combined with seeing Photoshopped images, were related to teens’ risk assessments of steroids, purging, and diet pills. My research showed that it was related.

Specifically, I found that when the reasons for the Buff and Fat Talk are internal (“I am too fat” for girls; “I am too scrawny” for guys), teens are more likely to believe that occasional use of steroids or diet pills, or occasional purging, is low risk. The more they felt that the photographic images I showed them in my experimental design were attainable, real, and desirable, the more pressure they felt to look like these images, and the lower their self-esteem. In reality, these unrealistic and unattainable images can have damaging and dangerous effects.

I am happy to share my results and research with you and to reach more young people with this information. Hopefully getting more knowledge out there will help this problem. As young people, we need to realize that we are far more than how we look.

Body builder in a gym.

Nate Marquardt before Photoshop

Cover of "Muscle & Fitness Magazine".

Nate Marquardt after Photoshop


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I think this is so true! i am constantly comparing my self to everyone in magazines and even in my school, same with the guys comparing themselves with each other, and to be honest i think its starting to be worse with the guys!


I think this is soo true sometimes I think that people compare themselves and sometimes I do myself to people in magazines.

i think its starting to be worse in magazine
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I was just searching at associated blog page content for my project research when I happened to stumble upon yours. Many thanks for the practical info!

Hey Liz, you rock. Congrats on the award.

suicide is never a way to live your life just go to a counceller and talk about problems i about did but i got help from a local counceller she was very helpful now i am grown up and have to wondefull kids
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wow, I didn't know they did that to models!

same girls and guys like compare there self to like rapers and models and actors in like movies it is really not that bad but it is okay for u guys and girls to look good or hot it is all in ur mind so don't try be different just be ur self it is right thing to so just do that everything will be fin. :)