By Dr. Alice E. Schluger
“Mirror, mirror on the wall...” Can you recall the last time you looked in the mirror and admired your reflection? We’re bombarded with images of perfect bodies on TV, in magazines, and all over social media. In our “selfie” culture, physical appearance often overrides health considerations. The overall message women receive is that we should strive for the perfect body and find ways to hide our flaws. Trying to live up to these standards creates negative feelings about our self-worth and self esteem. It also leads to judgements about ourselves and others which can manifest as body shaming.
What is Body Shaming?
Body shaming involves humiliating someone by making inappropriate or derogatory comments about their body size or shape. These criticisms can be made to ourselves, or to others either with or without that person’s knowledge. The act of mocking others can be carried out in person or via the internet and social media. Technological platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram play a significant role by emphasizing physical appearance, as well as providing a convenient vehicle for body shaming. It’s easy to post hurtful comments about others online because of the enhanced access and anonymity. This form of cyberbullying has contributed to an increase in body shaming in recent years.
Although body shaming is usually associated with fat shaming, people of all sizes and shapes can bear the brunt of this cruelty. Being very slender, I have been subjected to irritating comments, such as “don’t you eat?” or “you eat like a bird.” Even in a joking manner, remarks about what or how much food people are eating constitutes body shaming. People may think it’s a compliment to say how lucky you are to be thin, but words can be harmful especially if you’re already self- conscious about your weight. Even though you may not intend to hurt someone’s feelings, you may inadvertently be engaging in body shaming. How many times have you said to yourself that you feel fat or asked others if you look fat? You may not realize it, but these are also body shaming practices. It implies that being fat is unattractive and something to be ashamed of. Let’s face it-we only have a certain degree of control over our genetic makeup and metabolism. Although people don’t choose to be overweight, weight biases remain widespread in many societies and the fat shaming practices continue.
Adolescents and Body Shaming
Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to body shaming, weight shaming and appearance-based shaming during this stage of development. Think about how uncertain you felt about the changes in your body at that age. Attitudes towards body image and self-esteem are largely influenced by family members, friends, and social media. Adolescent girls, in particular, are at increased risk for eating disorders and excessive exercising stemming from pressures about their appearance. It’s important to be a positive role model for girls and educate children about body shaming. We also need to avoid speaking negatively about our own bodies in order to set a good example.
Body Shaming as an Occupational Hazard
Body shaming is widespread throughout the workplace. Have you heard these conversations around the water cooler? Since the office is fundamentally a social setting, weight and dieting tend to be popular topics of conversation. Busybody co- workers offering unsolicited advice about what you’re eating for lunch is more than just an annoyance. The “wellness craze” is rampant in our culture, resulting in both positive and negative consequences. Although worksite wellness programs can be beneficial in many respects, they often emphasize weight loss as a health priority. People who work in professions that uphold specific aesthetic ideals face harsh criticism about their appearance. Celebrities are a particular target for body shaming with the constant scrutiny from the public eye. Many notable women and men have spoken out about this issue in order to raise awareness and promote body positivity. This is a long overdue message for the entertainment industry, as well as the general public. Dance is another profession where body shaming is quite prevalent. Dancers are constantly judged on their body types by themselves, teachers, coaches and the audience. High levels of perfectionism pertaining to performance and a lean body appearance are inherent within the dance culture. Ballet dancers constantly worry about their weight which can lead to the development of disordered eating attitudes and behaviors.
Promoting Body Positivity
So, what can be done to reverse the body shaming trend? The “anti-body shaming movement” has begun to take shape with an increased focus on body positivity. This is a step in the right direction towards altering our appearance-based biases and prejudices. The necessity of opening up a dialog about this controversial subject is highly apparent from a mental health perspective. There have been attempts to alter our mindsets though marketing campaigns that incorporate more mainstream body images. As women, we can engage in advocacy efforts by
supporting women-based organizations, participating in activities and events,
fundraising, educating the community, and joining protest movements.
Realistically, it will take time to change our longstanding ideals of beauty and
relationships with our own bodies. Body positivity is a continuous journey towards
accepting ourselves and others. Learning to embrace our own imperfections will
ultimately free us from placing unfair judgments on others.
“Step away from the mean girls and say bye-bye to feeling bad about your looks.
Are you ready to stop colluding with a culture that makes so many of us feel
physically inadequate? Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to
be kinder to yourself and others." — Oprah