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Body Shaming: It’s Effects on Mental Health and How to Overcome It

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Body Shaming
Picture of Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Dr. Mohsin Ali MD is board certified in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Trained in Syracuse NY, he has worked in Tennessee for the last sixteen years.

Table of Contents

Receiving hurtful remarks about your looks can shake your self-confidence and stir feelings of anxiety. Yet, there are strategies to counteract body shaming and embrace self-love. The trend of body shaming is pervasive in today’s culture, affecting both men and women of all shapes and sizes.

Comments can target anything from stretch marks, scars, height, skin tone, clothing choices, and sadly, even disabilities. This cruelty isn’t limited to in-person interactions; it’s widespread online too. The toxicity of body shaming deeply impacts one’s mental well-being. At its core, it’s a form of bullying where individuals are unfairly judged for not aligning with societal beauty norms.

Such demeaning remarks can be crushing, leading to plummeting self-worth, potential depression, and even disorders related to eating. What’s more, these external voices of criticism can sometimes become internal, making individuals self-criticize their own appearance. It’s crucial to remember that no one should be defined by their exterior. So, how can we confront and rise above body shaming?

What is Body Shaming?

Body shaming encompasses the act of ridiculing someone based on their body type or appearance. It isn’t just about “fat shaming”; comments can also target individuals who are perceived as too thin or specific body features.

Sometimes, we are our own harshest critics. You might find yourself engaging in self-deprecating thoughts or remarks, such as “Why do I look so bloated today?” or “I should really stop eating so much.”

Body shaming isn’t limited to face-to-face encounters; it’s prevalent online too. It could come from family, friends, acquaintances, or even strangers.

Even seemingly light-hearted comments on one’s eating habits or dietary choices can be forms of body shaming. Offering unsolicited diet advice or praising someone’s weight loss might come across as body shaming, even when unintended. Often, those close to us might think they’re being supportive or helpful with comments like “Did you lose some weight?” or “Are you sure you want to eat all of that?”. But these remarks can reinforce negative self-perceptions.

The societal emphasis on adhering to certain beauty standards affects everyone, but remember: comments about someone’s body are uncalled for. Whether you’re body shaming yourself or it’s coming from others, it’s essential to foster body positivity, self-love, and view oneself with kindness and realism.

How to Recognize Body Shaming

Recognizing body shaming is the initial step towards addressing and counteracting it. Direct comments such as “You’ve put on so much weight” or “You’re too thin; you should eat more” are blatant and hurtful instances of body shaming.

However, body shaming can often be subtle, masked as innocent remarks or cloaked in jest. These covert comments can be just as harmful. Here are some examples to be aware of:

Subdued remarks like “Isn’t that skirt a bit short for you?”, “That piece of cake isn’t helping your waistline,” “You should consider hitting the gym,” or “Darling, you could do with a few more meals.” Online harassment, including derogatory comments or messages on social media platforms.

Who Are the Targets of Body Shaming?

Body shaming isn’t restricted to any single feature. While it often focuses on body size, any derogatory remark about a person’s physique is body shaming.

Let’s dive deeper into some reasons people experience body shaming.

Weight

Weight is a frequent cause of body shaming. Comments can range from someone being “overweight” to “too skinny.”

Deriding someone as “fat” is body shaming, often termed “fat-shaming.” Examples include, “They’d look better if they were slimmer,” or “I bet they need extra space on the plane.” “Dad bod” comments are directed at men.

Conversely, those with slender figures aren’t exempt. Termed skinny-shaming, comments like “Do they ever eat?” or insinuations about eating disorders are common.

Body Hair

Hair naturally grows on various body parts. Despite this, societal norms often suggest women should be devoid of body hair to appear “feminine.”

Remarks like a woman with visible underarm hair being “unrefined” or suggestions to shave are instances of body hair shaming.

Perceived Beauty Discrimination against those deemed attractive is surprisingly frequent and is termed “pretty-shaming.” Conversely, “lookism” pertains to bias against those deemed not adhering to conventional beauty standards.

For instance, attractive women sometimes face hurdles in landing authoritative roles. On the flip side, those not fitting certain beauty standards might face limited opportunities.

Food-Related

Comments Often linked with body size, comments about a person’s dietary choices constitute food-shaming. Remarks like “Should they be eating that?” exemplify this.

People can also self-shame, thinking, “I shouldn’t indulge in this treat.”

Clothing Choices

Past decades brought about notions like only those with certain body types should wear spandex. This is clothing-shaming.

Lululemon’s founder faced backlash for suggesting some body types weren’t suitable for the brand’s apparel.

Age-Related Comments

Ageism, or shaming due to age, frequently targets older individuals.

Body-shaming in this context might sound like “That’s too youthful an outfit for them.” Similarly, comments on celebrities appearing “aged” without makeup are shaming, as are remarks about aging signs like wrinkles.

Hair Texture

The longstanding beauty ideal has been glossy, straight hair. Hence, non-straight textures might face “texture-shaming.”

Comments like “It’s brave of them to sport natural hair” might sound complimentary but suggest the hair type is outside the norm.

Furthermore, “bald-shaming” is directed at those with thinning or bald patches.

Causes of Body Shaming

In today’s world dominated by “selfie” culture, there’s a significant emphasis on external beauty. We’re incessantly inundated with images of polished celebrities in magazines, advertisements, TV shows, and other media forms.

Daily exposures to platforms like TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram can understandably lead to feelings of envy or an unhealthy focus on one’s physical appearance and perceived imperfections. Trying to match up to these lofty standards can lead to negative self-perception. This self-critique can be damaging, especially when it chips away at one’s self-worth and body appreciation.

Obsessing over personal appearance can set up unrealistic ideals that are hard, if not impossible, to meet. Even with the awareness that many of these images are photoshopped or enhanced, it’s still a challenge not to fall prey to detrimental comparisons.

Body Shaming in Teens

Teenagers are especially prone to body shaming, weight critiques, and appearance judgments. During these formative years, a teen’s perspective on body image and self-worth is molded largely by influences from family, friends, and of course, social media. Mothers, for instance, can inadvertently set standards for their daughters. If a mother consistently laments her own physique or critiques her child’s eating habits or looks, it inevitably affects the child’s self-perception.

As teenagers navigate through their growth years, they’re naturally more receptive to feedback about their physique, weight, and overall looks. Bullying centered around weight during these years can lead to a distorted body image and an unhealthy fixation on certain body aspects. Overweight teens, in particular, face heightened vulnerabilities, with many grappling with feelings of depression.

It’s a misconception to believe that only teen girls face body shaming. Boys too can be targets. Many grapple with worries of not appearing muscular enough, especially when measured against prevailing notions of masculinity. If your teen is struggling with the mental health effects of body shaming, West Georgia Wellness Center offers Adolescent IOP for your teen struggling with any mental health condition.

Effects of Body Shaming

Even individuals who society often idolizes for their beauty, like supermodels or top-tier dancers, aren’t immune to self-doubt and flaws. When compared to these idealized standards, many feel they fall short, leading to feelings of inadequacy. Further, when exposed to body shaming by others and internalizing these damaging remarks, it can pave the way to a multitude of mental and physical health challenges, including:

Eating Disorders

A skewed body image is a significant precursor to disordered eating patterns, like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. To conform to societal beauty ideals, some might resort to drastic diets that soon evolve into harmful activities such as skipping meals, purging, excessive workouts, or an over-reliance on laxatives. This deprives the body of vital nutrients it needs to function. Moreover, seemingly innocent comments like, “You look so much better now that you’ve lost weight,” can inadvertently bolster these harmful behaviors.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)

Repeated exposure to body shaming can distort one’s self-perception, leading to an intense obsession over imagined or minor flaws in appearance. Such an obsession can manifest in behaviors like continuously checking reflections, covering up certain body parts, skin-picking, or seeking validation about one’s looks from others. The fear of judgment can hamper daily life, affecting school performance, relationships, and social interactions.

Over-exercising

While physical activity is usually a boon for health, an obsessive approach can be detrimental. When exercise turns into an addiction, it can lead to fatigue, frequent injuries, increased vulnerability to illnesses, and even mental health issues like depression or anxiety. This obsession can also lead to the Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) syndrome, where there’s an imbalance between calorie intake and the energy expended.

Mental Health Struggles

The sting of body shaming can exacerbate or lead to anxiety and depression. Experiencing humiliation, especially in public spaces or online platforms, might drive individuals to avoid situations where they fear further shaming. This isolation and constant self-deprecation can spiral into severe depression, heightened anxiety, and a damaged sense of self-worth.

Physical Health Complications

Our society often equates being overweight with negative attributes like laziness or lack of self-discipline. Recent studies showed that a significant percentage of young people experienced weight-based bullying. Instead of motivating weight loss, shaming has been observed to decrease physical activity and increase calorie intake due to stress. Consequently, this can negatively impact metabolism, contribute to weight gain, and escalate the risk of issues like high blood pressure, heart diseases, high cholesterol, and type-2 diabetes.

The effects of body shaming are profound, affecting both the mental and physical facets of health. Embracing diversity and promoting body positivity is crucial in fostering a healthier and more accepting society.

How to Handle Body Shaming

Whether it’s termed body shaming or fat-shaming, one universal truth remains: No one should be made to feel less for their physical appearance. Your body is uniquely yours, and it deserves love and respect. Regardless of what others might say or think, remember, it’s impossible to please everyone.

Living authentically and embracing self-love is paramount. It’s vital to prioritize your well-being and self-worth. Here are some insightful steps to address body shaming:

  1. Embrace Body Positivity Begin your journey by internalizing body positivity. This philosophy revolves around the importance of feeling confident in your own skin, which significantly affects mental health.Regardless of your body type or complexion, cherish it. Celebrate your health and focus on your blessings rather than perceived deficiencies.Inner confidence is paramount, and external validation can’t replace it. If you’re looking to make changes to your body, ensure it’s for personal well-being and not societal pressure. Embracing body positivity paves the way to combat body shaming.
  1. Step Out of the Shadows It’s disheartening that many who face body shaming often retreat from the world, perhaps by dressing more conservatively or isolating themselves. Life is too fleeting to be spent in fear or shame.Instead of shying away, radiate self-acceptance. Don’t let societal pressures overshadow your zest for life. Address discomforts head-on, take small steps, and gradually face situations that may have previously intimidated you.
  1. Find a Balanced Perspective While self-love is vital, also remain open to constructive feedback. Sometimes, well-meaning friends or family might share observations stemming from concern rather than criticism.For instance, if someone genuinely worries about health implications tied to weight gain, understand their perspective. It’s not necessarily about aesthetics but health and well-being. In such scenarios, reflect on the feedback and act based on personal health goals. Strive for health and happiness rather than fitting into a mold.
  1. Prioritize Self-Compassion The world has its fair share of critics, so don’t be your own worst enemy. Shower yourself with kindness, understanding, and respect. When you stand before a mirror, look beyond perceived flaws and focus on the beautiful person you are.Remember, seeking perfection is an endless journey. Instead, focus on being the best version of yourself.
  1. Curate Your Social Media Experience Social media can be both enlightening and toxic. If certain comments or accounts drain your positivity, take charge. Unfollow accounts that don’t align with your well-being and curate a feed that uplifts and inspires.Choose to follow accounts that resonate with body positivity or those that align with your personal growth objectives.
  1. Cultivate Gratitude Lastly, foster a deep sense of gratitude for your body. It’s the vessel that carries you through life, so cherish its every aspect.

Remember, even those in the limelight have imperfections; they might just be adept at concealing or presenting them differently. Don’t be swayed by the curated realities on social media. Instead, revel in the authenticity of your own existence and appreciate the gift of life.

How to Turn Body Shaming into Body Positivity

The prevailing winds of culture are shifting. Instead of an emphasis on the culture of body shaming, the momentum is now towards embracing our unique bodies with love and positivity. We’ve seen social media platforms rallying around body-positive hashtags, drawing attention to the need to challenge and change the long-held prejudices about our appearances.

However, overturning generations of beauty standards isn’t something that happens overnight. The deeply embedded perceptions of beauty, influenced by cultural traditions and norms, persist. But as the adage goes, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” This is as true for prevailing beauty norms as it is for individual body shapes and sizes.

Steps to Foster Body Positivity: Body positivity isn’t just a buzzword—it’s a journey. A journey to embrace not just yourself, but also others, for the unique individuals they are. While you might not have control over external voices, you can certainly influence your inner monologue and view yourself in a more holistic light. To nurture body positivity in yourself:

  • Nurture Self-compassion: Begin with fostering a deep sense of self-love. This means accepting your body, with all its imperfections, as a unique and beautiful representation of who you are.
  • Challenge Negative Self-talk: Be vigilant about the words you use with yourself. Whenever you catch yourself being overly critical, take a moment to reframe those thoughts into something kinder and more constructive.
  • Regulate Your Social Media Diet: Be mindful of the time and energy you spend on social media. Engage with accounts and communities that uplift you and reinforce a body-positive narrative. If a particular account or influencer makes you feel inadequate, it might be time to hit that ‘unfollow’ button.
  • Embrace a Healthy Relationship with Food: Understand that food isn’t the enemy. It’s nourishment, sustenance, and sometimes even a source of comfort. Instead of labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” focus on how they make you feel and the energy they provide.
  • Lean on Trusted Loved Ones: If you find yourself struggling, remember you don’t have to go through it alone. Seek out a trusted friend or family member to share your feelings with, or consider professional guidance to help you navigate your body positivity journey.

Shifting from body shaming to body positivity is a transformational journey—one that requires consistent effort, patience, and a whole lot of self-love. But remember, each step you take is a step closer to fully embracing the unique and beautiful individual you are.

How to Help a Loved One with Body Shaming

Seeing someone you care about endure body shaming can be distressing. Your empathy and understanding, however, can make a world of difference to them.

Express your concern and your affection for them genuinely. Use phrases like, “I’m worried when you continually focus on your weight,” or “It hurts me to hear you criticize your looks.”

Lend a patient ear and allow them to voice their feelings. Instead of making assumptions, inquire about how you can assist them. Sometimes, all they might want is a non-judgmental listener or a comforting shoulder.

Reframe the conversation from their physical attributes to other qualities you appreciate in them. Bring attention to their kindness, intelligence, zest for life, or any unique talents they possess.

If Body Shaming Affects Your Child:

Discovering that your young one has faced body shaming can be deeply painful. However, as with other forms of bullying, there are actionable steps to handle or even preempt such issues.

  • Educate Them: Make your child aware of the reality of body shaming, emphasizing the importance of mutual respect. Stress that any form of body shaming is intolerable.
  • Engage with the School: If the incident took place at school, consider discussing it with the educators or school management.
  • Broaden Their Social Horizons: If their current friends are the culprits, encourage your child to branch out. Joining clubs, teams, or other extracurricular activities can provide them with a fresh, supportive circle.
  • Model Positive Behavior: Reflect on how you talk about your own body. Lead by example by using uplifting or neutral language concerning body image.
  • Monitor Their Online World: Limit their exposure to social media and stay updated about their online engagements. The earlier you recognize signs of body shaming, the quicker you can intervene.
  • Reinforce Your Love: Reiterate that your love for them is not bound by their external appearance. Ensure your comments about their looks are always uplifting and avoid making jokes that might hurt their self-esteem.
  • Promote a Healthy Lifestyle: While emphasizing the importance of health, sidestep topics like appearance, weight, or diet. Highlight the capabilities of their body, praising its strengths and what it allows them to achieve.
  • Boost Their Confidence: Activities like sports, volunteering, or group pursuits not only enhance self-esteem but can also refine social skills. Encourage physical activities, as they can alleviate stress and elevate mood.

In the end, it’s about fostering an environment of love, acceptance, and understanding, helping your loved one navigate the challenges of body shaming with resilience and self-worth.

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