Body Shaming – What is it and Why Do We Do it?

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women holding a sign saying every body is beautiful

Body shaming, as the name suggests, is the shaming of another person for their body shape or body type. More specifically, body shaming is the action or practice of expressing humiliation about another individual’s body shape or size. But body shaming can also come in the form of self-criticism about our own appearance through judgement and comparison. Every culture has a definitive notion of what “beauty” is which tends to define the standards for skin colour, body dimensions, facial features, and even the kind of clothes we should or should not wear. Often these standards are very rigid and unreasonable. People whose bodies fall outside the societal standards of beauty face criticism no matter what they choose to do or wear.

While body shaming has been in society for quite some time. The internet and social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, have brought it to an all-time high. The images we are exposed to in movies, magazines, and social media falsely portray men and women with a sense of perfection that is beyond reach.

It’s not only body shape and size, but false images of wrinkle-free, flawless skin and choice of clothing that affects how we see ourselves. There are even apps now that help make men look “buff” with a six-pack and women look blemish free. It’s also impossible for most of us to go five minutes without hearing about someone’s new diet or fitness regimen. Technology has made the focus on appearance easier and given way to a platform that invites body shaming and bullying. Especially since we live in a society that values weight loss and thinness as something everyone should be striving for.

Body Shaming effects

a women depressed on the train

These standards are leaving people to always feel like they are just not good enough. Often times body shaming is overt and comes in the form of direct negative commentary about another person’s body. But more often than not, it comes in subtle nuanced commentary hidden in good intention, although just as damaging. For example, the media has commonly portrayed overweight characters as the running joke of a show or a movie. While many may think body shaming is harmless or just a benign joke. Body shaming can affect self-esteem and self-worth in a significant way. Body shaming is seemingly never-ending. Especially given that we live in a society with narrow beauty ideals and an insidious diet culture.

For example, people who are “overweight” are constantly told they should just work out and lose weight, or even told they’re “brave” for stepping foot in a gym. We love talking about our diet or exercise routine, especially if it’s working and we’re losing weight or getting toned. These remarks can cause a lot of grief for someone who might be struggling with body image issues. Mentioning numbers (as in weight gained or lost or dress sizes) can be especially triggering. Even for people who don’t have body image issues. We’re already bombarded with messages telling us about the latest miracle diet or workout trend to follow.

Staying fit and healthy is one thing, read our article on how to get into shape faster and safely. But trying to fit into standards of other people that are defined by unreal parameters can lead to an even unhealthier life and body – physically, mentally, and socially.

Body shaming linked with diet and food:

body shaming linked with food

Diet culture constantly finds ways to remind us that certain foods are “good” and “bad”. But the truth is that by placing moral value on food. We’re only feeding in to the belief that somehow carrots are “better” than carrot cake. Also when a person perceived to have a fast metabolism based on their weight is somehow superior to others. Commenting on someone’s food choices — even when meant in a positive way — continues to place a moral value on someone based on what they’re eating, or that they “get to” eat whatever they want because their metabolism might burn it off faster. Every person has unique nutritional wants and needs because every person’s body is different.

Similarly, calling someone brave for wearing something that shows some skin. This implies that dressing in a certain way in spite of body size is an act of “bravery”. When people should be allowed to wear whatever they want. Similarly, joking about or encouraging someone to eat because they appear “too thin” is a subtle form of shaming. Because some people are thin for all kinds of reasons. Commenting on someone’s choice of food or how much they’re eating, even in a joking manner. Is body shaming and can be painful, especially if you don’t know that person’s relationship to food. 

Impact of the media on body image and more side effects:

Canva - Social media concept

As appearance comes to matter more and more in a visual and virtual culture. The shame we attach to body image is only going to increase. For some, body shaming can lead to mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and even an eating disorder. Multiple studies have shown the negative impact of the media on body image. Exposure to photoshopped images of unrealistic body ideals has been linked to low self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders. People with anxiety tend to overthink everything, and when it comes to remarks about their bodies, it is no different. 

Constant negative remarks may make people anxious to the extent that they suffer from panic attacks. Body shaming has also been reported to lead to eating disorders like anorexia where a person starves themselves obsessively to lose weight if they feel their weight or appearance is “ideal.” Anorexia can then lead to physical health problems as well such as dehydration, undernourishment, and compromised immune function.

As mentioned earlier, body shaming can also be self-directed. Self-comparison is the most common way we body shame. If our regular mode of assurance from others that we’re beautiful, worthwhile, sexy, or pretty is centered around weight, height, or some other form of predetermined image, we’re basing our self-acceptance on shaky ground. For example, making beautiful and thin mean the same thing is an act of fat-shaming. If we use it against yourself, as many of us do, we’re putting ourselves in the way of self-criticism. The truth is that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. All bodies are valuable no matter what they look like or how healthy they are.

Ways to help with body image concerns:

If you’re struggling with body image concerns, here are some ways to be gentler with yourself and avoid constant social comparison. Remember that healthy body image is more than simply tolerating what you look like or don’t like about yourself. A healthy body image means that you truly accept and like the way you look right now. You’re not trying to change your body to fit the way you think you should look. It means recognising the individual qualities and strengths that make you feel good about yourself . Beyond weight, shape or appearance, and resisting the pressure to strive for the myth of the “perfect” body that you see in the media, online, in your communities. Striving for perfect will always lead to decreased self-esteem.

Self-esteem is how you value and respect yourself as a person. It is the opinion that you have of yourself inside and out. It impacts how you take care of yourself, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Self-esteem is about your whole self, not just your body. When you have good self-esteem, you value yourself, and you know that you deserve good care and respect—from yourself and from others. You can appreciate and celebrate your strengths and your abilities, and you don’t put yourself down if you make a mistake. Good self-esteem means that you still feel like you’re good enough even when you’re dealing with difficult feelings or situations.

We provide a course on boosting your self esteem and learning to become the best version of yourself. Visit the course here

Learning to treating your body with respect

Eat well-balanced meals and exercise because it makes you feel good and strong, not as a way to control your body. Notice when you judge yourself or others based on weight, shape, or size. Ask yourself if there are any other qualities you could look for when those thoughts come up. Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, in clothes that fit you now. Find a short message that helps you feel good about yourself and write it on mirrors around your home to remind you to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Read our article on how to be more positive and self efficient.

Finally, surround yourself with positive friends and family who recognise your uniqueness and like you just as you are. Be aware of how you talk about your body with family and friends. Do you often seek reassurance or validation from others to feel good about yourself? Do you often focus only on physical appearances? Remember that everyone has challenges with their body image at times. When you talk with friends, you might discover that someone else wishes they had a feature you think is undesirable. When negative thoughts come up, think about what you’d tell a friend if they were in a similar situation and then take your own advice.

Written by Dr Carlos Garcia

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