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NIDA. (2012, December 4). Does This Make Me Look Fat?. Retrieved from

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Elisabeth Burton, 2012 NIDA Addiction Science Fair Award Winner
December 4 2012
Photo of Elisabeth Burton
Elisabeth Burton

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

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.