Eating disorders are complex brain-based illnesses influenced by a variety of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Body shaming—that is, shaming or humiliating an individual for the size or shape of their body—is one environmental factor that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder. It is a risk factor we can work together to prevent and combat.
In this article, learn what body shaming entails, how it relates to eating disorders, and what you can do to combat it in your everyday life.
What Does Body Shaming Look Like?
Body shaming is a form of bullying that focuses on an individual’s physical appearance. Those on the receiving end of this shaming often internalize it, believing that mean comments or behaviors are warranted. While body-related bullying is often associated with elementary school through high school, body shaming can happen to someone at any age.
Body shaming is all around us, even if it’s not directed at us. We read magazines ridiculing celebrities’ bodies, watch television shows featuring “fat jokes,” see cruel comments on Instagram, or hear our friend saying that their high school classmate “let themselves go.” In whatever context someone is body shamed, there is often one harmful theme: body commentary is okay and certain body types are “bad.”
While individuals of any body type can experience body shaming, those in larger bodies are especially targeted. Some examples of body shaming comments directed at those in larger bodies include, “They’d be more attractive if they lost weight,” “They’ll need to buy two plane tickets to fit,” and “Why are they wearing that? That outfit is not flattering on their body type.” Some comments that serve to body shame people in smaller bodies include, “They look like they never eat,” and “They look like they have an eating disorder.”
Body Shaming and Eating Disorders
According to the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the best known environmental contributor to the development of eating disorders is the sociocultural idealization of thinness. This idealization of thinness in our culture leads to weight bias, which can then lead to weight stigma and body shaming. Although body shaming is not the sole contributing factor to the development of an eating disorder, it often is nonetheless an important one.
According to one survey, 58% of “overweight” high school boys and 63%of “overweight” high school girls experience daily bullying because of their body shape or size. Regardless of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, or sexuality, body shaming can have a monumental effect on self-esteem and mental health overall. In addition to contributing to eating disorders, it can also lead to anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia, emotional distress, and more.
Combatting Body Shaming
Body shaming, whether aimed at yourself or others, can be challenged in a myriad of ways. Here are some suggestions to combat body shaming in your own life.
- Revamp your social media feed: Social media can be such a powerful tool, for good and for bad. Try following social media accounts that uplift people of all body types and unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself. Check out who The Emily Program follows on Instagram to get started.
- Identify people in your life who are body positive or body neutral: Do you know people who refuse to comment on others’ physical appearance? Do they speak kindly about themselves instead of criticizing their bodies? Gravitate toward those people and try to spend more time with them. Let their good vibes rub off on you.
- Continue working on your own self-esteem and self-worth: Remind yourself that no one gets to determine your worth but you. Make a list of things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with how you look. Unlearning things you have been taught your entire life is challenging––especially in a society that celebrates some body types over others––but it’s possible. Seek professional help if you think you might need some assistance on your self-love journey.
- Help to educate those who perpetuate body shaming: It may feel like confrontation to speak out against body shaming, but it’s really about helping others understand why body-related comments are harmful and unproductive. So many people engage in body shaming without even realizing they are doing it. This does not mean they are bad people; it just means more awareness and education are necessary. We can all do our part to educate and advocate on an individual level.
- Determine one or more things you love about your body: Although your body does not determine your worth, you can still work to appreciate it––even love it. You get one body in this life, and hating it the whole time is exhausting. Actively not hating your body can feel like a radical act in our society where weight stigma is still pervasive, but it can be incredibly freeing. You deserve to, at the very least, feel neutral about your body.
Body shaming is so normalized and ever-present in our culture. Because of this, it can feel like challenging it won’t make any impact, but this isn’t true. If we all make necessary changes to our mindsets and our lives, a real difference can be made.