Body shaming is the act of criticizing either your own or someone else’s physical appearance. This is a type of bullying often contributing to low self-esteem and causing severe mental health issues. Fortunately, approaching your body shaming struggles in a comprehensive manner can help you to deal with your emotions and begin crafting a positive self-image.
What Is Body Shaming?
Body shaming refers to the act of making negative or cruel remarks about someone’s body shape, weight, size, or body image. This form of bullying is intended to humiliate a person who is perceived as physically unattractive or does not fit into a societal beauty standard. Body shaming can target people of all ages, genders and for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, being overweight (aka fat-shaming), too thin, too tall, having skin issues and more.1
Body shaming can happen in the home environment, at school, work and most frequently online or social media platforms. Body shaming can also be seen in mainstream media like television shows, movies, commercials, magazines, billboards etc. Sometimes body shaming comments can come from your inner circle like your parents, siblings, friends, teachers, co-workers, and even yourself through your inner critic.
Other times these malicious comments can come from people you don’t even know. Regardless of where the body shaming stems from it is still hurtful, potentially affecting your self-esteem, and/or result in serious psychological consequences, especially if it starts at an early age.1
Body shaming manifests itself in the following ways:1
- Critiquing your own appearance through judging or comparing yourself to others
- Mocking, teasing and/or criticizing someone’s appearance face to face
- Gossiping about someone’s looks or making negative comments behind their back
Body Shaming Examples
Body shaming can take many forms. In most instances, body shaming comments are obvious. In other cases, these can fly under the radar and manifest indirectly, whether it’s online or in-person. However, the message is unwavering and does not deviate from the narrow belief that a person’s worth lies strictly in their looks.1
Here are four common examples of body shaming:
These can be images or magazines mocking a celebrity for doing things like crying, not wearing makeup, leaving the gym. The intent here is to embarrass the person by showing how “unbecoming” and “unkempt” he/she looks and conveying a message to the public that this is not the way you should want to look when you are out and about.
You look at yourself in the mirror and think, “I look like a fat cow in this outfit” or make that comment about someone else. Usually, people who are body shaming have poor self-esteem, often self-criticize, and just like they judge themselves, they are also scrutinizing others.
You post a selfie on Facebook and someone comments, “You look great, have you been working out?” or someone tells you, “I hope I look like you when I’m your age”. Although this sounds like a flattering or reassuring statement it has a critical undertone related to physical appearance.
A commercial on T.V. promoting the latest diet pill to lose weight, a classic example of diet culture. YouTube tutorials to make your eyes appear less tired or walking into a store that has shelves packed with “anti-aging” products. This sends the message that we should be concerned with our appearance and strive to look “better” because if not we will feel horrible about ourselves.
Effects of Body Shaming
The effects of body shaming can be very damaging to a person’s wellbeing by producing uncomfortable feelings, unhealthy attitudes, and maladaptive behavioral patterns related to body image. The impact of body shaming can also trigger personal insecurities which can impair social functioning and interactions. Consequently, many individuals may be at risk of developing serious psychological/physical health conditions.1, 2
Body shaming manifests itself in the following ways: 1, 2
- Distorted perception about one’s body causing self-doubt, low self-esteem and a desire to isolate.
- Developing an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia
- Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and/or body dysmorphia
- Propensity for self-harming and/or suicidal behaviors
- Psychological and emotional distress- feeling embarrassed, worthless, guilty, angry etc.
- Overall discontentment with physical appearance and dissatisfaction with life.
- Extreme concern with body image that’s exhibited in unhealthy behaviors such as following strict diets, rigid exercise plans, numerous cosmetic procedures etc. in efforts to change or “enhance” appearance.
- Dangerous health outcomes (including death) because of body-image fixation from malnourishment.
Why Does Body Shaming Happen?
Our sense of self and body-image is typically influenced by many factors like family, friends, peers, culture, social media, celebrities, and advertisements. Unfortunately, we live in a society that is highly focused on physical appearance and how we “ought” to look. Body image related topics somehow seem to be a normal topic of conversation whether among friends, at the dinner table or online platforms. Social media is inundated with images that promote “flawless” bodies and models who are (more than likely) photoshopped and curated with filters.1, 2
This endless obsession with physical appearance compounded with intense exposure of unrealistic body ideals and beauty standards can distort how we view our own bodies and make us feel insecure. As such, having poor body image and body shame should not come as a surprise because our overall feelings about our bodies are deeply affected by these pounding messages.
Consequently, many people can feel a tremendous amount of pressure to look a certain way and fit into this “perfect” mold. Sadly, these societal stereotypes are further perpetuated when we internalize them as absolute truths and pass on those very same faulty beliefs onto others. 1, 2, 3
How to Overcome Body Shaming
Overcoming the impact of body shaming is a journey that starts from within requiring introspective work, and intentional effort. However, building a positive self-image is possible. Having a plan that includes reframing self-defeating thoughts, fostering good health, using analytical thinking, relying on self-compassion, and seeking positive supports, can mitigate the damaging effects brought on by body shaming.
Here are ten ways to effectively overcome body shaming:
1. Reframe Your Negative Body Talk
Reflect on your inner dialogue- what sort of things are you telling yourself? Write these down to identify negative self-talk and work on replacing these with positive self-affirmations. Getting into the habit of reframing your thoughts and practicing healthy body talk can improve your body image and shut down your inner critic as well as increase your resiliency when exposed to unrealistic body ideal messages.1, 2, 4, 5
2. Consider Body Functionality & Appreciation
Think of your body and each body part. For example, your brain helps you think, your nose enables you to breathe, your legs can take you from one place to another and so on. Honoring, respecting and being grateful for what your body allows you to do including the body parts you may be critical about can assist you to build self-appreciation and promote a holistic mentality towards body image.1, 2, 4, 5
3. Look Beyond Your Body
Look beyond your physical appearance and try to acknowledge all of you, every aspect- your attributes, personality traits, and characteristics. What qualities do you love about yourself aside from your looks? Are you smart, honest, thoughtful, funny, loyal? What things are you good at? Assessing your entire personhood can help you value your internal features and develop a positive and broader impression of yourself. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6
4. Use Your Strengths
You may have strengths that you either forgot about or are not aware of. What kinds of things energize you and make you feel at your best? For example, if learning is one of your strengths make an intentional effort to learn a new word every day. Using your strengths consistently, intentionally, and in meaningful ways can improve your self-esteem/confidence and overall mental wellbeing.2, 6
Prioritize self-care with things that maintain overall good health like eating nutritious foods, getting restorative sleep, tending to personal hygiene, engaging in mindfulness practices, journaling, socializing with friends, etc. This takes practice and a conscientious effort; however, you’ll find that it can significantly impact your progress towards building a healthy self-image and improve your quality of life.
6. Try Life Enhancement Movement
Life-enhancing movement refers to making physical activity an enjoyable endeavor for anyone regardles2, 4, 5s of size, skill set, or interests. This approach to exercise is thought to increase positive feelings about your body and bring a sense of wellness by emphasizing the intention of being in the moment and focusing on the pleasure movement brings. 2, 4, 5
7. Challenge What You Hear & See
When you see commercials, ads on television or social media, etc., Ask yourself what ideals are these trying to promote and why? Are these realistic? Do these resonate with me? Challenging and examining the content of these messages empowers you because you get to filter the information and decide which ideas to discard, and which encourage a positive body image and build confidence.1
8. Surround Yourself with Accepting People
Seek friends and/or relatives who do not engage in body shaming and who are accepting toward themselves and towards you. Surrounding yourself with caring people who are inspiring and encouraging can enable you to look at yourself and others without judgment as well as provide you with moral support when you’re struggling with emotions that are triggered by body shaming.1, 2, 4, 5
9. Learn About Body Shaming
Educate yourself and learn how body shaming can insidiously and sometimes indirectly or inadvertently slip into your life in conversations, social interactions, and online behavior. Being able to identify body shaming can bring you the self-awareness you need to act responsibly and prevent you from accidentally hurting others or being complicit with this type of toxic behavior.1
10. Develop Self-Compassion
Practicing body kindness, and learning how to practice self-love can help you “sit with” the uncomfortable feelings associated with body shame in a forgiving and non-judgmental manner. Moreover, self-compassion can cultivate self-appreciation/acceptance, decrease the probability of engaging in disordered eating and/or other body shame related issues, and strengthen resilience to better cope when confronted with future occurrences that are threatening to your self-esteem. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
How Therapy Can Help
If you endured body shaming that has led you to struggle with poor body image, low self-esteem, anxious or angry feelings, obsessive behaviors and/or possibly a more troubling mental health concern, reaching out to a professional is crucial. You can start by looking into an online thearpist directory online where you can filter your preferences and specific needs. This tool allows you to find a therapist who is experienced with body image/self-esteem issues and able to appropriately address your concerns.
Getting help through therapy can be beneficial for managing your distress and other issues stemming from body shaming experience. Having professional support can provide you with a sense of safety and a validating space to express and process painful memories and emotions.
Moreover, being involved in psychotherapy can help you gain self-awareness, learn effective strategies to cope with uncomfortable feelings and reduce unhealthy behaviors. With time and commitment, you can improve the relationship you have with yourself and find a way to love your entire self.1, 2
Body shaming is a terrible act that no one should have to endure. Nonetheless, there are ways that can help you heal your wounds and work through your body-image issues. Moving towards a positive mindset and developing a healthy broader self-concept can take time and intentional effort, but it’s possible. With the appropriate support including therapy you can rise above your struggles brought on by body shaming and live a more fulfilling life.