Body-Shaming: What Is It & Why Do We Do It?

//Body-Shaming: What Is It & Why Do We Do It?

Body-Shaming: What Is It & Why Do We Do It?

Body ShamingDid you ever stop and think about how often we are told to change our appearance?  Magazines constantly offer tips about how to lose weight “in days,” appear slimmer “instantly,” and hide our “imperfections”… without actually knowing anything about us, much less our appearance.  This is one example of body-shaming, and it is everywhere.  Sitcoms so frequently use overweight characters’ bodies as the basis of many of the show’s jokes.  It has become the norm to criticize aspects of our bodies as some type of bonding experience with friends – if we all hate our bodies; it somehow makes us feel connected and united.  Body-shaming (criticizing yourself or others because of some aspect of physical appearance) can lead to a vicious cycle of judgment and criticism.  Messages from the media and from each other often imply that we should want to change, that we should care about looking slimmer, smaller, and tanner.  And if we don’t, we worry that we are at risk of being the target of someone else’s body-shaming comments.

Body-shaming manifests in many ways:

1) Criticizing your own appearance, through a judgment or comparison to another person. (i.e.: “I’m so ugly compared to her.” “Look at how broad my shoulders are.”)

2) Criticizing another’s appearance in front of them, (i.e.: “With those thighs, you’re never going to find a date.”)

3) Criticizing another’s appearance without their knowledge. (i.e.: “Did you see what she’s wearing today? Not flattering.” “At least you don’t look like her!”).

No matter how this manifests, it often leads to comparison and shame, and perpetuates the idea that people should be judged mainly for their physical features.

This leads to the question: if it has such harsh consequences, why is body-shaming so common?  An example we often discuss at the Braintree Adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dealing with conflicts with peers.   Why, when we are upset, annoyed, or intimidated by someone, do we default to criticizing their appearance?  “Whatever, she’s ugly,” can be a go-to defense in these situations, particularly during adolescence and the young-adult years.  In some ways, it feels easier to shoot for something that will hurt, like targeting physical appearance, rather than expressing what is really going on emotionally.  Saying, “I’m really hurt by how my friend treated me,” or “I’m terrified of losing this friendship” opens us up and makes us more vulnerable, and therefore feels easier to bury underneath the body-shaming comments that rush to mind.

How do we challenge this?  In situations like those listed above, expressing true feelings rather than physical criticisms can be a great first step.  While recently discussing this with the Adolescent IOP, several patients admitted that it is hard to identify ways of expressing frustration without using body-shaming, as this has become an almost automatic response.

Practice identifying why you are upset about a situation.  For example, it’s unlikely that you’re mad at a friend because she’s breaking out, and more likely that you’re upset about a miscommunication or feeling of rejection.  Practice thinking it, and eventually, verbalizing it.

Identify who in your life is body-positive – or even body-neutral.  Think of people who celebrate their body for what it can do, and people who refuse to comment on others’ physical appearances.  Spending time with these people can be especially helpful while you are struggling with your own internalized body-shaming, and help you view yourself – and others – more positively.

Confront those who perpetuate body-shaming.  Once you’ve become more aware of your own body-shaming behaviors, you may notice how often your friends, family or co-workers do it.  Talk to them.  Discuss why it bothers you and help them see how it may also be hurtful to them.

Find something (or things!) you LIKE about your body.  We spend so much time witnessing advertisements about how to make our eyelashes millimeters longer and how to get whiter teeth that it’d be nice to counter some of that by celebrating what we do have.  Maybe, despite your body image struggles, you love a new hairstyle you discovered.  Maybe you’ve noticed how much stronger you feel with balanced eating.  Find something physical or nonphysical that makes you YOU and celebrate it every day.

Is body shaming an issue you encounter? If so, there’s help.

About the author:

ErikaVargasErika Vargas, MA, is the Adolescent IOP Clinician at the Walden’s Braintree clinic.  She is trained in the Maudsley Method/Family Based-Treatment (FBT); and works with adolescents to decrease eating disorder behaviors with the support of their families.

2018-09-10T03:54:16+00:00

32 Comments

  1. Letitia June 27, 2015 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Hi,

    I am a 30 year old female who – despite weighing less than many people I see on the street every day – am constantly being fat shamed by strange men over my thighs. Admittedly, my thighs are larger in proportion to the rest of my body, but I don’t see why that’s anyone else’s business or why it’s such a big deal, and I have to be told I’m fat several times a day. Actually, according to my bmi, at 5″3 and 119 pounds I’m on the leaner side of normal, but because of the hurtful comments these men make everyday I can’t accept the way that I look. I’m obsessed with toning and slimming down my thighs and I worry that these people have already caused a dysmorphic disorder in me.

    • Fee May 24, 2018 at 1:08 pm - Reply

      Hi, just be thankful that you are healthy and accept yourself the way you are. Anyone who says ugly things about you is not worth your time. I am 42 years old and same height as you are. The last time I was weighing under 130 was 24 years ago. I am married and I encounter body shaming on a weekly basis. I am trying to eat right and loose weight but only for my benefit; because I do not want to die young.

  2. Erika Vargas July 10, 2015 at 3:55 pm - Reply

    Hi Letitia,

    I’m glad you stumbled upon this blog post! Body-shaming never feels good for the person who is the victim of it. One thing to consider is that often, we interpret what people say differently than how they mean it. I, of course, do not know the context of what the men say to you, but it may be worth considering text versus sub-text. I would also encourage you to consider discussing your dysmorphia with a therapist trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help you reframe some of the negative things people have said to you, and begin working toward acceptance.

    Best,
    Erika Vargas

  3. Teresa February 21, 2016 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    I have a student who has accused our administration of body shaming because they do not allow leggings with tops that cover their bottom. I find this insulting to true body shaming and the repercussions it has cost many. Do you find this dress code to be a part of body shaming?

  4. Teresa February 21, 2016 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    Correction…tops that do NOT cover your bottom

    • Walden February 25, 2016 at 6:58 pm - Reply

      Hello,

      Thank you for taking the time to read the blog! I think you and your student both raise interesting points. I have heard similar sentiments from adolescents in our programs, as leggings with tops has become a style over the past few years. Some people feel that, by not being allowed to wear this style, they are being told their body is distracting to others, as if they should be ashamed for the idea of having a body and wearing certain attire. It is hard to say whether this is in line with the same type of body shaming written about in this blog, though what is more important is finding ways to make people feel comfortable in their own body – regardless of their shape, size, or clothing choices.

      Best,
      Erika

  5. KK April 20, 2016 at 1:52 am - Reply

    I am doing a research paper on body image shaming and I would like to know the date that this was created, so I can site this source.

    • Walden April 25, 2016 at 6:39 pm - Reply

      HI KK, you can say that it was created in February of 2016. Thank you for using us as a source for your paper! Good luck!

  6. Momo June 1, 2016 at 4:55 am - Reply

    Hi,
    I am just wondering if someone could give me some good websites or blogs on thin-shaming? I need it for a 5 minute speech on conflicts and stuff. Thanks!

  7. Tia June 20, 2016 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    My mother body shamed me by making a comment about my breast and telling me I need to build muscle in them. It really hurt my feelings

    • Walden June 20, 2016 at 7:13 pm - Reply

      I’m really sorry you experienced that, Tia. I hope that you know that you are beautiful just the way you are, and don’t feel like you need to change for anyone but yourself. We are all built uniquely different, and that is a gift. Keep on being YOU, Tia! Please take care.

  8. Rose Boyle July 17, 2016 at 10:38 am - Reply

    I have a problem with comments like how gorgeous someone is and they are bone thin ! My brother in laws wife constantly flings this at me any chance she gets!
    I’ve been married over 30 yrs and was always over weight but not always obese. 16 yrs ago diagnosed with diabetes at 49, was later diagnosed with Hashimoto, and three yrs later with thyroid cancer, which was later removed. 85 lbs later I am now four years cancer free.diabetes had been in my family for generation and I suspect thyroid disease also, what hurts is the ignorance and judgemental attitude of doctors and people who generally blame the person who is victimized by the circumstances that made them the way they are. It is as insidious as racism and just as cruel and ignorant! I agree that people who feel intimidated or less than another person tries to knock that person down by such behavior. It has been destructive to me because I had to beg my doctors for the proper tests to detect diabetes,(did you cheat on your blood test?)
    Long after, finding I was diabetic for ten years before getting treatment!
    Endo telling me I was high normal thyroid with my weight topping 309!
    Only to find after losing my thyroid and put on thyroxine I lost 85 lbs.!
    Well sometimes comments hurt, like tv doc’s calling fat” blubber” while trying to “help” people, it’s judging someone by the content of one’s skin rather than the content of one’s heart and mind that causes strife and sickness in this world.

    • Walden July 21, 2016 at 1:40 pm - Reply

      Great points, Rose. We are sorry to hear that you were unable to receive proper medical treatment due to an apparent lack of understanding from your medical team. We are glad that your health seems to be under control, and that your realize that judging people by their external appearance is doing them a world of injustice.

      Take good care, Rose!

  9. Lisa July 23, 2016 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    I’m over weight and middle aged. My husband told me to go put my “apparatus” on (meaning my swimsuit) so we could get in the neighbors pool. She is young thin and was wearing a bikini. I told him that his statement hurt me and was insulting. I feel like it’s body shaming. Am I wrong?

  10. James Breslin March 28, 2017 at 12:03 am - Reply

    I can relate as a male. I was mercilessly teased about being fat. I refuse to sink into a victim status however and have no wish to crusade about the issue and to make it an ideological cause celebre. I was also teased about my nose. Screw them is what I decided and moved on. It’s their issue.Weight is health issue only. One should never let others dictate how we should feel about ourselves. We who were taunted by our weight or by any physical quality must move on and discover things about us that trancend the ignorant opinion of others. Be strong. You are a child of God who accepts you as you as you are. If you are good enough for God you are good enough for you.

    • Walden March 30, 2017 at 5:20 pm - Reply

      Thanks for sharing, James! We appreciate you joining in on this important conversation : )

  11. Emma June 29, 2017 at 7:35 pm - Reply

    I am 23 yrs old female. My mother and father feels awkward to take me out with them because im overweight and my mom even said to me about this. I feel helpless . I don’t know how to react to this. I even argued with her saying physical features dont matter and she said that it matters for her. Relatives and friends around have been asking about my plus size and she feels awkward to face them because of me.

    • Walden July 6, 2017 at 1:53 pm - Reply

      Hi Emma, I am very sorry to hear about your situation. I would encourage you to seek help from a professional who has experience with body image work. This might also be helpful for your mother, who sounds like she might benefit from some education around the “Health at Every Size” movement. I know that it is difficult, but try not to internalize HER views around weight and shape…the way you feel is most important here. Feel free to use our blog as a resource! Good luck Emma and take good care : ) Remember, “Every Body is Beautiful” <3

  12. Cyrus August 18, 2017 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    I am 37 yrs old male.I have been body shamed for having a slightly bigger behind than average since I was kid. This is mostly by school mates,work mates & acquaintances. I keep these body shaming comments to my self but sometimes I confront the shamers. Most of the shamers keep doing it behind my back, or when am out of earshot. This really brings me down and sometimes makes me wish I looked different.I know I should not feel this way but I cant help it. Its really eating at my self esteem!

    • Walden August 21, 2017 at 4:20 pm - Reply

      Hi Cyrus, so sorry that you are experiencing body shaming. It’s very hard to ignore these comments and to not internalize what they are saying. It might be helpful if you work with a professional on processing these feelings and unhelpful comments that people are making around you. Remember all of the wonderful things that your body allows you to do everyday and try to focus on that. Thank you so much for sharing–you are very brave to share your story! Take care, -Natalie

  13. Susie October 20, 2017 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Hi there,

    My daughter is 9 years old and just starting to “blossom”. The school has now twice approached us to tell us she needs to wear and undergarment of some type because others are noticing. This is mostly because the weather is turning colder outside. Today, the assistant principal told my husband that my daughter must wear a coat. I have had conversations with kiddo, but she is not ready to wear a bra. Her classroom is hot and she runs hot all day as is. She does not want to wear a tank or cami for fear that it will make her hotter. I feel that the school is overstepping their boundaries and that this is total body shaming. Do you have any words of wisdom that I should say to the school. Or should I just force my daughter to wear some type of undergarment?

    • Walden October 23, 2017 at 1:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Susie, so sorry that you and your daughter are experiencing this. We certainly have heard similar stories when visiting schools and talking with clients and families. While I am not privy to many details that might make answering this question more appropriate, I can tell you that this is probably an important time to have a conversation with your daughter around the normalcy of her changing body and prepare her for more changes in body composition that are likely to follow. Puberty can be a difficult time, especially for girls who experience it on the early side before the majority of their peers. Unfortunately, we cannot control how others act around our children, but we can do our best to be proactive in order to prevent lasting body image issues that can often be triggered by our current media and diet industry climate. We wish you luck and want to commend you on reaching out and advocating for the needs and rights of your child. Take care, -Natalie

  14. Mavis January 22, 2018 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    I think us ladies really perpetuate this body shaming issue,by agreeing with what the media calls attractive,beautiful etc. Who cares if the whole world says you are beautiful.We depend on men’s approval of us,to the extend that even those ladies who are not even overweight to the extend that their health is at risk are trying to loose weight. I believe everybody is beautiful in their own way.

  15. Jean Shaw March 18, 2018 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    Jean March 18, 2018

    I’m a senior and since menopause I have struggled with my weight. I attend W.W. and do my best. I have a close relative, older than I am, who has always been thin although she bakes and eats whatever she likes. She constantly makes comments about weight every time I ever talk to her. She told me she was disgusted her daughter who is about my height because she was so heavy. I asked about how much she weighed and she said about 170 pounds. That means she finds me disgusting since I struggle to weigh 170 pounds. I’ve told her I find her comments hurtful but she can’t speak to me without weight coming into the conversation. Perhaps this is her power trip. Any suggestions. I hate to burn bridges at this age. Ironically this same woman had a granddaughter who was hospitalized and very ill with anorexia so you’d think she’d know how hurtful it is.

    • Walden March 19, 2018 at 12:43 pm - Reply

      Hi Jean,

      Thank you for sharing your comments. I am sorry to hear that you are having a hard time with your relative. It sounds like she puts a lot of stock into weight as a measure of someone’s value. Unfortunately, we can’t force people to change, especially if this is belief that this person has had for a long time. It is totally appropriate for you to limit exposure with this relative, especially if you have asked her to stop as it makes you feel uncomfortable. I would also encourage you to look into the body acceptance / health at every size movement for tips on how to appreciate the body that you’ve been given for the amazing things that it does.

      Good luck, Jean and please know that you are worth far more than what you weigh : ) – Natalie

  16. Kay August 5, 2018 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    I am just curious as to whether or not it is socially acceptable and/or common for people to comment on another person’s weight? I know it happens but it seems bizarre and extremely presumptuous for someone to comment to another that a. they’ve gained weight (unless they know them well and the person is trying to gain weight) b. they’ve lost weight (again would have to know person well and know this is a goal). I would never tell someone, “You have put on some weight” or “You are too skinny”. So I was searching to see what type of person would do this and what their clearly negative ulterior motive might be.

    • Walden August 20, 2018 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      Hi Kay, thanks for writing in and for posing this important question. I would say that it is NEVER appropriate to comment on someone’s weight. This is the safest way to ensure that you don’t cause any unintentional damage as you never know what is going on internally for them. Hope this helps! Take care, – Natalie

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