Metaphors that communicate weight-based stigma in political news: A case study of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

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News media use metaphors to describe politics (Landau & Keefer, 2014) and obesity (Barry, Brescoll, Brownell, & Schlesinger, 2009). Weight-based stigma is prevalent in U.S. news media (Heuer, McClure, & Puhl, 2011). Media coverage of politicians’ body size may contain metaphors that stigmatize weight. Metaphors reflect and shape how people think about important issues like politics or obesity (Landau, Sullivan, & Greenberg, 2009; Landau, Meier, & Keefer, 2010; Landau & Keefer, 2014).


This study uses stigma communication theory (Smith, 2007) to examine stigmatizing metaphors used in media coverage of a United States politician, and candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Republican.


We coded n = 240 articles, from January 2011 to December 2014, that referenced Christie's weight. Considering both the articles and the comments in response to them, we identified n = 246 weight references that utilized metaphors and coded these using categories derived from the stigma communication theory framework.


Our coding of these weight references, from journalists and comments posted by the public, demonstrated that metaphors accomplish all four functions of stigma communication: they mark, label, assign personal responsibility, and link to peril the stigmatized person.


Our findings demonstrate not only that news media use metaphors to describe a politician's weight, but also show how these metaphors — alone and together — function to constitute stigma communication messages. These messages can affect public opinions toward politics and obesity.


This article was originally published in European Review of Applied Psychology. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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European Review of Applied Psychology


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