Why do we struggle with it?
It has been in the news everywhere in recent months…fat shaming or body shaming. Every celebrity seems to have something to say regarding it. What is body image? Why is fat shaming or body shaming so detrimental? What can we do to stop it?
Body image is the mental representation you create of yourself or how you see yourself when you look in a mirror. This may or may not be how others actually see you. Your body image is made up of many elements, such as emotions, moods, early experiences, attitudes of your parents and many more. This perception strongly influences your behavior and what you believe about your appearance, how you feel about your body and how you sense/control your body as you move. Unfortunately, the society we live in today is hyper-focused on body image and what is wrong with our bodies. This negative body image is a distorted perception of your shape and usually involves viewing parts of your body in a way from what they actually are. Most people who have a negative body image believe that their body shape or size is a sign that they are a failure, they feel ashamed/self-conscious/anxious about their body and feel awkward or uncomfortable in their body. Often, these people are convinced only other people are attractive. The distressing fact is that body image has nothing to do with actual shape or size, but is really the product of peer and social pressure with cultural and family values. All of these combined together influence our feelings of self-perception, self-worth and self-esteem. This is why people with negative body images can have a multitude of health problems, like eating disorders, obsession with weight loss, low self-esteem, depression and isolation.
On top of these harmful internal thoughts on body image, our society’s focus on looks has given way to body shaming. Body shaming is when you criticize your own appearance through judgment or comparison to another person, you criticize another’s appearance in front of them or you criticize another’s appearance without their knowledge. Any of these can lead to shame of yourself for how you look or for judging others. This thought process perpetuates the idea that people should be judged mainly for their physical features. Unfortunately, body shaming is so ingrained in our culture, we probably don’t realize how prevalent it is. Everywhere you look there is something telling us that we need to change our appearance. Magazines offer tips on how to change while television shows make fun of people who are overweight or appear different than what the “normal” look. Everyone has something that they don’t like about themselves and we discuss it with our friends causing us to bond over this shared experience. All of this input from the media and each other sends the message that we should want to change and care about looking different from the way we are (slimmer, smaller, tanner, etc.). Also, we understand that if we don’t look the “correct” way, we are at risk for being the target of someone else’s body shaming comments. Why is body shaming so widespread when the consequences are so severe?
Sadly, we, as a society, are not good at expressing our true feelings when we are upset. Instead of sharing what is emotionally bothering us, we often resort to criticizing the other person, especially their appearance. We know how we feel when our appearance is criticized, so we instinctively lash out at others through body shaming knowing that it will deflect the intense emotions we are feeling.
In order to stop body shaming and improve our body image, we need to do several things. The first thing is to change our attitude towards body image. We need to focus on having a positive body image which is having a clear and true perception of our shape by actually seeing various parts of our bodies as they really are. By celebrating and appreciate our own natural body shape, we are better able to understand and appreciate that a person’s physical appearance says very little about their character or value as a person. Accepting and being proud of your body will lead to you feeling comfortable and confident. As silly as it may sound, it is important to be grateful for what your body is and what is working. This helps to boost your confidence even more. It is important to listen to what your body need—exercise, healthy food, sleep—and avoid being sedentary, eating foods high in fats and sugar and not getting enough sleep. It is vital that we hold the media and each other accountable. Avoiding offending media and seeking out media that reinforces positive self-image are key to helping us rewire our thought process about our bodies. Meditation is helpful in clearing your mind of negative thoughts and get rid of the obsessive cycle of worrying about our body, what we eat, how much we eat and how we look because of it. Another helpful tip is to find a hobby or purpose…people who are busy doing activities are less likely to worry about how they look. We need to do a better job of expressing our emotions when we are upset rather than lashing out at each other’s appearance. Part of this is surrounding ourselves with people who are body positive in their thinking. Look for things that you like about your body and celebrate them. Doing this can go along way toward changing your perception of yourself and others.
Negative body image and body shaming are everywhere. It is up to us to change our perception and eventually this will lead to societal view changes regarding how we look and how it impacts our lives. Having a positive self-image is not just an attitude, but a habit that we all need to do a better job of practicing. Remember, your body is perfect for no one but you!