Negative comments have existed since the dawn of time, but the emergence of body shaming is a relatively new element in society. As people gain visibility into the lives of others, people that put themselves out there also open themselves up to scrutiny.
Unfortunately, body shaming is not exclusive to the communities of people that choose to have a public presence. Body shaming is a type of bullying that can affect anyone, from the seventeen-year-old boy down the street to the middle-aged female executive in the corner office.
What is body shaming?
By definition, this is an intentional act of humiliation regarding a person’s physical appearance, specifically their body shape and or size. Also known as fat-shaming, body-shaming comments are critical and almost always negative in delivery and intent.
What Is Fat Shaming?
Fat shaming is mistreating overweight people. It involves bullying, excluding, discriminating, mocking, and committing other disrespectful acts toward people that are perceived to be carrying additional weight. Shamers sometimes consider overweight people as less attractive and undisciplined. They criticize other people’s weight and eating habits and make them ashamed of their appearance.
Some shamers sadly justify their actions and say that what they are doing is motivating overweight people. However, fat shaming is actually proven to cause additional weight gain for people as it causes emotional health issues rather than providing motivation for weight loss.
Side effects of having been body shamed
There is no doubt that experiencing this kind of mockery at any age or stage of life is hurtful. Body shaming manifests itself in many ways, and the effects are not always quick to show themselves. Sometimes victims do not even realize they have been exposed to experiences that lead to body shame until something unrelated triggers the memory.
The damage that body shaming can have on your overall self-worth is significant. And for those who already suffer with low self-esteem, having been criticized about their appearance may reinforce the negative light they already viewed themselves in, creating a vicious cycle. When this happens during early childhood, it can be the foundation for how the child learns to look at, talk about, and develop love and respect for their own body. So if peers constantly taunt them about specific physical features at this young age, it is likely to curtail their ability to develop the skills needed to have high self-worth.
As adolescents, kids, unfortunately, can take to body shaming pretty easily. Especially since this is a time in which their own bodies are likely changing, perhaps they are experiencing the side effects of new hormones in their bodies and criticizing another’s appearance because they are insecure about their own.
When adults body shame, it is typically the manifestation of their own unresolved traumas. Although this does not make it acceptable, when an otherwise mature and competent adult is actively and deliberately body shaming someone else, their own mental health and low self-esteem are more than likely at the root of the behavior.
How to stop body shaming
As with almost everything else in life, we can only control ourselves. However, to overcome body shaming as a society, the more vocal every individual becomes, the louder the voice of change will be.
One way to change the narrative is to start from the inside out. Learning how to love yourself, inside and out, and creating a positive body image gives you a foundation of confidence that can become contagious in a good way.
As a victim or a supportive advocate of the cause, you can talk to others about how their body-shaming will negatively affect their targets. Even the simple act of dissociating with those who cannot change their ways speaks volumes. Showing through action that you will not tolerate body shaming is courageous and powerful.
Be a safe place to land
You never know who might need you and when, but if your friends and family know that you are a safe place to land, that fact alone can help them reframe their own body image when a body-shaming bully has brought it into question.
Arguably one of the biggest tragedies of a culture ripe with body-shaming is how it can lead to an eating disorder. Things like anorexia nervosa or bulimia can grab hold of you slowly or all at once.
These mental health disorders can devastate you in two ways; both your mind and body will take a hit if you suffer for any length of time. Whether the disease forces you to compulsively work to lose weight or results in you gaining weight, the result is the same. You being made to feel ashamed of how you look has now become your burden to resolve.
If you have an eating disorder
If you are struggling, first and foremost, understand that you are not alone. These disorders do not discriminate, and men and women of all ages, demographics, races, etc., can be susceptible. If you do not already have a medical professional you trust to go to for help, try starting with a trusted person in your inner circle. Recognizing that you need help will help you embrace it, whether from those around you or working with a professional counselor or therapist.
Examples of body shaming sentiments
Sometimes it will be crystal clear that what someone has said was meant to target and criticize your physical appearance, but that is not always the case. Below are some examples of verbiage that is commonly used from aggressors that you should be aware of.
- “You look like you need to eat a pizza!”
- “I can see your cellulite through those pants.”
- “Blonde hair does not suit you.”
- “Park in the back; the extra steps will do you good.”
- “You need to consider swapping out your glasses for contacts.”
Of course, this list is not indicative of every angle that body shaming can take. Still, it highlights that sometimes, these sentiments are seemingly innocent but can stir up negative emotions regarding your self-esteem and relationship with your body.
Armed with the knowledge of what body shaming is, the impact it can have on its victims, and how to be an advocate for overcoming its presence in our society, you can now move forward in the world with your eyes wide open. Please do not discount the role of grace and forgiveness as it pertains to this issue as well. Sometimes, we say things to others that do not land how we intended and unintentionally participate in these behaviors. And sometimes, we are the ones who have been offended and need to do a deep dive into thinking about if the offender acted on intention or not.
Criticizing another’s appearance is undoubtedly never ok. As you learn to practice self-love and share that wisdom with your network, you will create a barrier of confidence that acts as a repellant for those who do not wish you well. Pay attention to your social media behavior and how it impacts your views of yourself and your life.
Additionally, how those you idolize use their own social media platforms plays a role in your cognitive perception of physical appearance. One thing to be happy about is that the stigma around this is quickly being lifted, and more people are finding the inner strength to stand up and say no; it is not acceptable to talk about physical appearances; I will not tolerate being in that type of environment.