What is Body Shaming?

by Rakib Sarwar, RPh
Published on January 22, 2020

A human’s body is wonderful and beautiful. At least, this is the answer you will get if you ask most men about a woman’s body. Throughout history, a woman’s body was glorified, represented in the most beautiful ways through sculptures dating back to ancient times, as well as paintings, mosaics, and reliefs. Countless poems depicted the beauty and worth of the body, both female and male.

However, the media image of beauty that is being served every day via the Internet, TV shows, billboards, magazine covers, movies, catwalk shows, etc. does not help in fighting the terrifying trend of today: body shaming.

What is body shaming? It is possible that you haven’t heard of the term. However, we are sure that you have either been a victim of body shaming yourself at a certain point in your life or that you had witnessed body shaming that happened to your friend, sister, daughter, or a passer-by on the street. 

What is body shaming by definition?

Body shaming is an action (verbal or non-verbal, physical or non-physical) of implying that one’s body is not good enough, pretty enough, or “normal” enough (1). Body shaming can come from an individual or a group. It can affect both men and women. However, research shows that women face body shaming more often than men. 

Types of body shaming

Body shaming can come in many different forms. Some of them are obvious and straightforward, while others can be hidden and sneaky (1).

There are three main types of body shaming

The first type comes from yourself. If you often find yourself thinking bad of your body or comparing yourself to another person, you might be body shaming yourself. Do these sentences sound familiar to you: “My thighs are too fat!”, “My lips are so thin”? If your answer is yes, you should stop body shaming yourself.

The second type implies body shaming another person in their presence. If you tend to tell people sentences with negative. For example, “Your nose is really too big”, “Your bottom should be smaller if you want to find a date”, or “Your shoulders are too broad for a girl,” etc. You must not be negative, and immediately stop doing body shaming. Such criticizing can have devastating consequences, especially if you are doing it to a person at a sensitive age, such as puberty or a person in a sensitive situation or period of life.

The third type refers to body shaming of a person’s body when they are not around. If you often comment on one’s appearance, clothing or body figure without the knowledge of that person, you are still body shaming them. 

Unexpected forms of body shaming

If you are still not clear about “What is body shaming?” you should consider some unexpected and not so obvious forms of it.

Did you know that skinny people also suffer from body shaming? Did you ever criticize people exercising with you in the gym? Did you ever feel ashamed of your own body and refuse to inspect it or visit a doctor for the same reason? Have you ever judged one’s sexuality based on the form of their body?

These are all kinds of body shaming. Even though it may sound weird, mere dieting instead of learning more on healthy food and proper, balanced nutrition, is a kind of body shaming, according to psychologists (1). 

Body shaming in advertising and on social media

Almost every article we come across contains photos of beautiful women or handsome men. Social media, advertising, the Internet, magazines, body shaming is everywhere (1). 

That’s why body shaming or criticism of someone’s physical appearance has become a common thing. The situation is becoming even worse with strict beauty standards. As a result, body shaming intensifies if a person is away from the imposed standards of beauty.

Why is social media so dangerous when it comes to this problem? Social media provides the ability to affect millions of people with a single click. You can trigger or intensify body shaming in a second.

As the Internet opened the doors towards uncontrolled freedom of speech (or poorly controlled), when social media and other means of online communication come into the wrong hands, they can cause more evil than good – especially when it comes to body-shaming and cyberbullying. As a result, body shaming is one of the most common forms of online violence.

Luckily, social media can also be used to empower people and spread the message of hope and acceptance of different types of human bodies.

Consequences of body shaming and why you must stop it

Research has shown that humiliation does not only affect the psychological state, self-confidence, and sense of value, but it also provokes a sense of social inferiority, which together causes health problems (2).

In short – those women and men who have low self-esteem and are already shy when it comes to their bodies can become real victims of body shaming. Even though this problem may seem benign at first, think twice. It can lead to serious psychological disorders, depression, eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia (2), etc. Finally, it can even lead to suicide.

Research in this field is extremely important. Experts have established a link between the psychological condition of people subjected to physical discomfort and their health problems. Body shaming accounts for a large part of such research works.

We have come a long way from the “grey” area, asking ourselves: “What is body shaming?”, to a situation where we can openly talk about its different forms and consequences. Sociologists have learned a lot about the psychology of feelings of shame related to our bodies and the findings are terrifying. 

People under constant criticism of others often suffer from a lack of self-confidence, eating disorders, and depression.

A person can feel less worthy, insecure, worthless, or helpless because of shame, including body shaming.

Even if others do not observe them at that particular moment, people who had suffered from body shaming in the past feel exposed, vulnerable, and fragile because they always assume that someone is observing them and they think about what others think of their bodies.

When they get embarrassed, they often try to deny it and often run away from such situations. With time, they can even become anti-social and introverted in order to avoid such situations. This can trigger a vicious circle of other conditions, negative thoughts, and disorders.

Moreover, people who were victims of body shaming can sometimes engage in negative and risky situations (3) such as speeding, alcohol consumption, use of psychoactive substances, drugs, and unprotected sexual relations.

In further stages, complaints they hear from other people, criticism, or even benign comments or warnings make them too tense and they often react aggressively in order to stop the situation that resembles body-shaming they experienced in the past.

People who had experienced severe forms of body shaming often do not feel empathy because they are overwhelmed with the concern of what somebody thinks of them.

As the sense body-shaming of shame can completely engage the person, it is difficult to find a way to completely change the way of thinking, as it is usually not just one problem. It is not enough to simply apologize and move on. This is why the struggle against body shaming must be taken seriously, both on the individual plan and when it comes to the whole society.

Recently, we have witnessed a number of campaigns that try to end the trend of body shaming and alleviate its detrimental effects. These are positive trends that give hope that we will manage to change the mindset of new generations despite the negative effects coming both from society itself and the advertising and social media. 

What can we do to stop body shaming?

Even though you might think that fighting body-shaming is not possible, there are many things you can do, now, immediately. It is true that winning the body shaming and overcoming it is not easy. However, it is possible.

First of all, you should identify the people in your life who have a positive image of the body, or at least a neutral one. Think of the people who love their body for what it can do, and think of those people who refuse to comment on the appearance of other people. Spending time with such people can be of great help to build a positive image of your own body and the bodies of other people you know and those you see on the street, in public transport or at different events you join. 

The second step is to confront and condemn those who propagate the trend of shaming the physical appearance of one’s body. As soon as you become aware of your own body-shaming behavior, you will start to notice it more and more among your friends, family, colleagues at work, and other people. Talk to them. Discuss why you are bothered and help them understand the extent of the negative consequences of body shaming. 

Find something that your body can do that amazes you. Find something that you like, love, or adore on your own body. We are witnesses of advertisements on how to increase your eyelashes and whiten your teeth, and there are not many people who glorify or emphasize what we already have and what we are comfortable with when it comes to our bodies. You should not stop working on yourself. You should continue exercising, losing weight if your BMI is above the normal, etc. However, you should feel free to adore your new hairstyle. You should enjoy the fact that you feel stronger with your balanced nutrition habits. Find something physical or non-physical that makes you like yourself more and feel free to celebrate it every day!

This will also help you stop judging other people’s physical appearance. In addition, it will even help you stop noticing it after a while. This will open new horizons and allow you to notice and appreciate some values other than the visible, external ones. 

The Bottom Line

We live in a time when we are being subjected to constantly direct and indirect comments about our physical appearance. We are constantly being evaluated and criticized if our bodies do not meet the imposed standards of beauty and good looks. Therefore, we usually feel bad, ashamed, or unpleasant.

Experts call this phenomenon “body shaming” and find that it does not only affect your psychological state, sense of value, and self-confidence. It exacerbates the sense of social inferiority and thus causes various social, psychological, and health problems.

This is not surprising given that the psychological condition is directly related to physical health. That’s why body shaming should be taken seriously.

It comes in many different forms, from the obvious, direct one, to more hidden and therefore trickier versions. The severe consequences of body shaming include depression, anorexia, bulimia, anti-social disorders, and even suicide.

You can do a lot to help yourself and others face this problem. You should spend time with positive people who do not engage in body shaming. Also, you must fight your own urge to give negative and humiliating comments about other people’s bodies.

You have to love your body regardless of what others say. You must combine the feeling of appreciation and gratitude with positive and healthy work on improving both your physical and inner condition. However, you should never do this for the sake of others, as this opens the doors to frustration and even further body shaming once your (and their) expectations are not met. You should work on yourself for the sake of your own happiness, health, and satisfaction.

If you were or are a victim of body shaming, asking for professional help is highly recommended. There are many different psychotherapies, programs, and training that can help you overcome the consequences of body shaming. 

References

  1.     Brewis AA, Bruening M. Weight Shame, Social Connection, and Depressive Symptoms in Late Adolescence. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 May 1;15(5):891. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15050891. PubMed PMID: 29723962; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5981930. Found online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981930/
  2. Sun Q. Materialism, Body Surveillance, Body Shame, and Body Dissatisfaction: Testing a Mediational Model. Front Psychol. 2018 Oct 30;9:2088. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02088. PubMed PMID: 30425675; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6218615. Found online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6218615/
  3. Dakanalis, Antonios &Madeddu, Fabio & G, Clerici& Riva, Giuseppe & Zanetti, Assunta. (2013). The role of body shame and body image avoidant behaviors in deliberate selfharm. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 74. 543. 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.03.028. Found online at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237047792_The_role_of_body_shame_and_body_image_avoidant_behaviors_in_deliberate_selfharm
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