Body shaming has become a common occurrence today both online and offline. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of the consequences of these behaviors. For some, it may seem entirely harmless to comment on the appearance of another person, but it can be disastrous for a person at a receiving end in more ways than one. Body shaming is an extensive subject and all of us should learn about it as much as we can. That’s exactly the main purpose of this post. Read on to see everything you need to know about body shaming.
What is Body Image?
Before we can even begin discussing body shaming it’s important to address body image. The term body image refers to how a person sees their body and how attractive they feel themselves to be.
That said, body image is more than what we see in the mirror or on photos of ourselves. It encompasses beliefs about your appearance including memories, assumptions, and generalizations. Additionally, body image is how you feel about shape, height, and weight. It also extends to how you physically experience or feel in your body (how it makes you feel to be in your skin) (1).
Positive body image indicates a person understands their sense of self-worth doesn’t depend on their appearance. This attitude involves accepting and appreciating the whole body exactly as it is, having a broad concept of beauty, and inner positivity.
On the other hand, a person with a negative body image is not satisfied with their body and appearance. They may compare themselves with other people, feel unworthy or inadequate, and ashamed or embarrassed. Negative body image goes hand in hand with a lack of confidence and seeing your body (or some parts) in a distorted way (2).
What is Body Shaming?
Body shaming is defined as the act or practice of subjecting someone to mockery or criticism for supposed bodily imperfections or faults (3). In other words, body-shaming is any activity or practice whose intention is to humiliate someone’s body shape, weight, or size. It’s a form of bullying that may lead to severe emotional trauma. Adolescents are particularly prone to the consequences of body shaming.
The perpetrator of body shaming could be just about anyone from parents and siblings to friends, schoolmates, colleagues, the internet users (4). Body shaming is often portrayed in the media.
Whether done online or in “real life”, body shaming is equally dangerous. The act of judging someone based on their physical appearance alone can affect almost everyone. Some people are body shamed for being overweight and that act is often referred to as fat shaming. Underweight people, especially women, are also victims of body shaming. If you go online and look up photos of thin (not necessarily underweight) celebrities, you can see a bunch of comments by internet trolls suggesting herto “eat something” or accusing her of implementing unhealthy body standards, just because she’s slim. In other words, you don’t have to be overweight or underweight to be a victim of body shaming.
When the term body shaming comes to mind, most people usually think about insulting someone’s excess weight. Body shaming is more than that. Besides shaming someone for being underweight (or even normal and healthy weight), this act can also extend to:
- Height shaming
- Shaming of hairiness (or lack of hair)
- Shaming someone’s hair color
- Shaming muscularity (or lack of it)
- Shaming facial features
- Shaming of tattoos and piercings
- Shaming of physical marks and scars on the skin
The ideology of a perfect body is deeply rooted in our culture, especially online. Seeing someone who doesn’t fit into that mild often triggers body-shaming attacks. Basically, whoever doesn’t fit into society’s or an individual’s version of beauty and perfection may be subjected to body shaming.
How Common Body Shaming Really Is?
Body shaming is more common than we think. In fact, peer victimization can be directly predicted by weight.
Numbers show 64% of students enrolled in weight-loss programs reported weight-based victimization. Additionally, 33% of girls and 25% of boys report weight-related teasing by their peers. The prevalence of weight-based victimization goes up to 60% among the heaviest students. At the same time, 84% of students observed weight-based victimization targeted at overweight peers during physical activities or being verbally insulted (5).
Moreover, up to 94% of teenage girls and 64% of teenage boys have been victims of body shaming, according to reports (6).
When discussing body shaming, it’s also important to mention body image statistics too. About 91% of women are unhappy with their appearances and opt for dieting to achieve optimal body shape. However, approximately 5% of women naturally have the body type portrayed ideal by Americans in the media. An estimated 58% of college-aged girls feel pressured to slim down (7).
Why Do People Body-Shame Others?
Body shaming is scary and that’s exactly why many ask why people do it. A single reason behind this behavior doesn’t exist.
The idea of the perfect body is a major culprit. We are often left to believe, especially in the US, that only if you fit into the idea of perfection you’re worthy. If not, you’re not beautiful, desirable, or worthy of anything. Media often presents impossible body standards as the goal we should strive to achieve. And with the rise of social media platforms, many people feel it’s okay to write harmful comments to other people. This often happens due to several reasons:
- Perceiving the internet space as irrelevant or harmless
- Considering body shaming as the form of free speech
- Managing insecurities by insulting others to think of themselves as superior
Even though body-shaming is a common occurrence online, it happens on the street, at work, in school, or even in your home. For some people, a perfect body is the sign of a person’s quality and they feel free to remind everyone who doesn’t match that standard. Some people may body shame others because they believe it can motivate and help another person slim down or gain more weight. In other words, it’s possible for people to be unaware of how hurtful their words can be. Others, like mentioned above, project their own insecurities and problems to others and compensate for their shortcomings.
Let’s take obesity as an example. In the eyes of normal-weight people, obese men and women are not only externally unattractive but also lack the ability to maintain interpersonal relationships. Overweight persons are also perceived as lazy.
Children and adolescents often body shame their peers because this type of behavior is presented as okay by their parents, teachers, and other role models. If this behavior is left uncorrected, they grow up to become young adults who repeat it on the internet and in real life.
Regardless of the reason, body shaming is dangerous and we as a society should strive to stop it.
Can We Body-Shame Ourselves?
Yes, we can. Body shaming is not just about receiving insults regarding your appearance. You can body shame yourself, too.
Do you criticize your appearance?
Are you judgmental about your appearance and compare yourself to others?
Do you hate seeing yourself in the mirror or photos?
If the answer to the questions above is YES, then you have a negative body image and resort to body shaming yourself.
Self-shaming is a learned behavior. In a nutshell, we see and hear people around us shame themselves and others. It doesn’t take long for this behavior to become normalized, especially if you were body-shamed by others. When people body shame, someone, at one point that specific person may start shaming themselves too (8). They blame their appearance for the body-shaming they receive and the cycle continues.
Effects of Body Shaming
Body shaming is a dangerous behavior. The effects of these actions can put a person’s life at risk. Studies show the inability to meet social demands for a perfect appearance can decrease quality of life and correlate with disorders of psychological/mental character. It’s also the source of stigmatization and a major culprit behind social isolation. Body shaming can lead to negative body image which, in turn, may lead to destructive behaviors (9).
1. Body shaming can increase weight gain
For example, fat-shaming can trigger physiological and behavioral changes associated with poor metabolic health and increased weight gain. A person experiences a form of stress. Their cortisol levels increase but self-control drops and the risk of binge eating increases.
In fact, the more someone is exposed to weight discrimination, the more likely they are to gain weight and become obese, even if they were thin to start with. Additionally, fat-shaming is associated with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem as well as eating disorders and avoidance of exercise. The problem becomes even worse when people internalize weight bias and turn it on themselves i.e. self-shaming. In these cases, a person is three times more likely to develop metabolic syndrome and other problems (10).
2. Your ability to control eating behavior is at risk
Body shaming whether done by others or ourselves can impair a person’s ability to control eating behaviors (11). This leads to adopting unhealthy eating habits in an attempt to slim down. While some people may overeat due to body shaming, others may go in the opposite direction and follow dangerous diets to lose weight. They may severely restrict their calorie intake and starve themselves. Oftentimes this leads to greater disappointments which end up with overeating again.
3. Suicide risk
As mentioned above, body shaming harms mental health and may lead to depression. Persons who experienced weight discrimination were 2.7 times more likely to experience depression, a study showed (12). It’s also useful to mention depression is common among obese persons, especially those with extreme obesity (13). That being said, depression is one of the most common causes of suicide. In a study of 2436 subjects, those with severe obesity were 21 times more likely to engage in suicidal behaviors and 12 times more likely to attempt suicide (14).
Basically, body shaming can lead to severe mental health problems that, for many people, seem like a no-way-out situation. To some persons, suicide seems the only way out.
Unfortunately, body shamers are not aware of their actions and how dangerous they can be. As a society, we need to do more to practice positivity and put an end to body shaming actions that may lead to increased suicide risk.
To sum up this section, the effects of body shaming include but are not limited to:
- Overeating or starving oneself
- Excess weight gain
- Anxiety and depression
- Metabolic syndrome
- Increased suicide risk
- Eating disorders
- Low self-esteem
- Social isolation
How to Deal with Body Shaming?
The impact of body shaming is so severe many people aren’t sure how to handle it. In fact, for some people, it is impossible to do so. The good thing is that there’s a lot you can do to deal with body shaming and save your mental and physical health. These tips can help you out:
- If someone body shames you in “real life” keep in mind it’s okay to leave the situation. You are not obliged to stand there and listen to their insults. Removing yourself from a situation may seem difficult at first, but it will help you regain control and achieve a sense of power.
- If body shaming occurs online make sure to block those accounts, regardless of who they are. You have the opportunity to adapt the online space to positively influence your mental wellbeing. Block users who impair your psychological health and comment on your appearance.
- Remember, it doesn’t have to be your responsibility to educate them about their actions. But, you can challenge them should you desire so.
- Never respond to a body-shaming comment (online and offline) by body-shaming them or saying something mean. Instead, you can block, ignore, delete, or make sure they realize their words mean nothing.
- Consider your relationship with a commenter (15). Is it someone you know or they’re strangers? If you are body shamed by someone you know well, feel free to be open and honest with them. Explain their comments are hurtful, maybe they aren’t even realizing it. In case a stranger is body shaming you, remind yourself that person has no impact on your life whatsoever and their words are completely irrelevant.
- Talk with someone you trust about body shaming and ask for their support.
- Consider therapy sessions that can help you adopt coping mechanisms .
- Practice kindness and acceptance of your body. Appreciate your body just the way it is. Every appearance-related change you want to make should be your decision, not because body shamers implied it.
Body shaming is a major problem today, especially in the time of social media. These behaviors have a significant impact on a person’s mental and physical health. Preaching kindness may seem like a cliché, but it can help manage body shaming. We need to work together to eliminate these actions. Don’t judge or insult someone’s appearance, and don’t body shame your own.