Surprisingly, body shaming’s origin comes from ancient times through superstitions toward those with red or blonde hair. In short, whoever didn’t meet the norms of the population were deemed social outcasts. Was there a foundation for it or proof that blondes or red heads caused strange or mysterious happenings? No, it was based on judgments and criticisms about physical appearances not measuring up to the norms of the day.
Today, body shaming still takes place mostly in the context of a person’s weight, height, skin color, facial features, or other physical features and abilities. While it may seem harmless or like just having fun, the downside of body shaming is the possible negative effects on your self-esteem, mental health, and overall well-being.
When you’re told that you are too fat, too skinny, too short, or too tall, it can create traumatic results that contribute to an adverse self-image. If you’re repeatedly referred to as too fat or too thin these words are internalized and you begin to believe the judgments or criticisms, which manifest in long- lasting results.
As a teen, I remember a family member saying to me, “Oh! You’re not that fat.” As subtle as it seems, I still recall those hurtful words. This embarrassing experience led me to feel inadequate and insecure about my body. I questioned whether I was loved or an embarrassment to this family member. It turn, it also contributed to my already existing emotional eating pattern. As a result, I felt humiliated and hopeless about the situation; I gained more weight and felt even more unattractive.
Body shaming can lead to anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Yes, there are those who resist and argue about the criticism. However, unless you have an extremely solid grasp on who or what you stand for, depression can follow. If not, you will ruminate about the encounter and likely live with a sense of unhealthy resistance.
Reflecting again on centuries of body shaming, it’s clear that it has perpetuated prejudices against people of different races, genders, and sexual orientations. Discrimination and prejudice can have significant negative effects on society at large, and body shaming promotes even wider gaps in our society. In short, body shaming contributes to a culture that’s already embraced unhealthy norms.
Another significant downside of body shaming is the various ways it can lead to unhealthy habits as well as create new unhealthy patterns such as eating disorders and substance abuse. When you are body shamed for being overweight, it likely creates pressure to crash diet and excessive exercise. The pressure mounts out of shame. Importantly, if you are a people pleaser, you’ll likely take steps to please the person making the criticism. In such extreme cases, you can’t act fast enough. The weight can’t come off quickly enough, because shame drives your actions rather than your setting a goal to adopt a mindset of healthy eating and living with a clear sense of well-being.
How do we develop an awareness of ourself or a loved who’s suffering from body shaming? As a body- shamed individual, you will likely notice a shift in self-talk through damaging self-judgment or social withdrawal. A teen in the family might decline invitations to social events or family gatherings out of fear of being body shamed again. It’s as though you shrink from social situations and the way you show up in the world.
There may be a shift in moods and eating habits. The teen may begin to decline eating favorite foods for fear of overeating or binge eating. It’s likely the teen will express irritability, because she can’t seem to control her eating.
Research from Health and Wellness magazine report that 50 percent of teenaged preadolescent girls and 30 per cent of boys dislike their bodies. Around 60 percent of adult women and 40 percent of adult men have negative body issues. Unfortunately, the increase in teen cases of anorexia is on the rise. In most cases, the teen is traumatized and withdraws from food completely. A decline in mental health and self-esteem takes over. Support in these cases comes from seeking professional help, as well as the parent or significant person in the teen’s life learning about how best for all to proceed.
Body shaming is a significant social issue in our society. In 1984 J. Rodin, L. Silberstein and R. Striegel-Moore, “Women and Weight: A Normative Discontent,” published an article and introduced the term “normative discontent.” Discontent about the body and yourself leaves negative effects on each generation: all ages, genders, and races. By recognizing the signs and symptoms as well as educating yourself on the issue, you can contribute to the decline of this social and mental health issue. How?
Begin by addressing society’s ideas of beauty, which more about glamour, and promoting realistic standards. Question the conversations you have with yourself in the mirror each morning. Develop a listening ear to hear what teens in your home are saying about their body and pay attention to the way they talk about their friends in terms of body shaped and sizes as well as eating habits. Finally, engage in self-care by practicing self-compassion that promotes your well-being.
The effects of body shaming are widespread. One of the greatest steps to decrease body shaming for parents and friends to make a conscious effort to support those who constantly body shame their body. The challenge is for everyone to develop a listening ear and continue to be educated about the various ways it plays out in our everyday lives. This includes the willingness to have hard conversations with loved ones. The results can lift everyone involved up to a higher level of well-being, and connectedness.