- The act of saying something negative about one’s own or another’s physical appearance. These comments could be about someone’s hair, skin, size, eating habits, level of attractiveness, physical ability, etc.
- Social media and changing standards of beauty have a significant impact on individuals’ self-image, forcing them to constantly strive to achieve unrealistic ideals of what their bodies should look like. The rapidly growing culture of internet influencers sharing flawless images using filters or editing also sets unrealistic beauty standards that can result in body shaming – of others and of the self.
- Capitalism and the onslaught of targeted marketing that preys on individuals’ insecurities further exacerbates insecurities.
- Adolescents are especially vulnerable to body shaming, facing significant pressure from their peers to adhere to traditional standards of femineity or masculinity.
- Historically, much shaming has also been directed at women, oftentimes coming from within the family. Comments from parents on eating, dressing, or other habits have a significant impact on how children and young people see themselves. While this is often perceived in our society as coming from a place of love, shaming someone does not actually help them. It causes them to isolate themselves from their family and has long lasting impacts on their sense of identity and feelings of inadequacy. Children who are teased about their appearance by family members, even in casual settings, are more likely to try to control their weight in unhealthy ways.
- Body shaming can lead to a number of mental health issues including body dysmorphia, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and anxiety, among other things.
- The irony is that there is no ideal – there is no way to win in a culture that shames people for being too big, too small, having too much hair or too little hair, eating too much or too little, wearing too many clothes or too few; the list is endless. This perception, in turn, affects how we treat others and ourselves.
Recognizing inherent biases
Body shaming can be explicit, but also goes unnoticed sometimes given its normalization, so much so that it is unconscious. Some of the more subtle ways in which internalized body shaming seeps into everyday interactions is evident from the fact that individuals who are perceived as attractive are often more successful in certain spheres- like receiving higher salaries for similar roles. In order to address implicit biases, one must first learn to recognize them.
To this end, one must force oneself to reflect and identify the negative stereotypes we accept as normal. The American Academy of Family Physicians has discussed tactics to reduce implicit bias, including introspection, mindfulness, perspective-taking, learning to slow down before jumping to conclusions, individualization, institutional fairness, and taking the time to work on such biases.
Dealing with body shaming
Negative comments about your body can leave you feeling self-conscious and anxious and can result in excessive exercising or the development of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating. Compliments based on changes resulting from such disordered eating or exercise can further exasperate existing triggers and create pressure to maintain such image.
It takes conscious and intentional effort to change body shaming into body positivity. Some sections of the internet have recognized the negative effects of shaming and there has been an effort to promote more acceptance. The body positivity movement aims to focus on the acceptance of all bodies, regardless size, shape, skin tone, gender, and physical abilities, and challenges beauty standards as an undesirable social construct. It sees beauty in the things that make each of us different.
Building body positivity is a continuous journey. Some steps to this end include cultivating self-love, replacing negative self-talk, unfollowing negative internet personalities on social media, being conscious of the media you consume, developing a healthy relationship with food and exercise (prioritize nutrition and distraction-free eating), and reaching out to loved ones for guidance and support. Don’t isolate yourself or hide your body and treat yourself with kindness and empathy; extend this courtesy to those around you – there is never an appropriate time to comment on the change in someone’s weight or eating habits, body parts, hair, etc. If someone is facing body shaming, let them know you are concerned, be patient and listen to their worries without judgment, and try to shift the focus away from body-specific comments or compliments. Let them know that they are more to you than their physical appearance.
Being body neutral
In being body neutral, one attempts to be more at peace with one’s body. Body neutrality is different from body positivity in that it encourages the treatment of the body as a physical vessel that is only a part of who you are. It does its role of keeping you alive and well, and what it looks like does not take away from these very important functions.
In a culture where much emphasis is placed on flaws, internalizing body neutrality and changing how we talk about our own body can also impact how we perceive others, and can reduce the projection of our insecurities onto them.