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  • Pauline Bradley

Body Shaming

Criticising yourself or others on some aspect of physical appearance not deemed to be the norm.

In society we have gone a long way to educating ourselves and eradicating various forms of prejudice e.g. racism, sexism, disablism, ageism; but Body Shaming almost seems to be an acceptable form of prejudice in that it is endemic in our society and almost all of us at one time or another will be judged negatively by our appearance by ourselves or another. In fact, a new term, “lookism”, has been coined for body shaming.

Beauty is largely a socially constructed idea that has become a multimillion-dollar business. The beauty and fashion industries pedal the beauty myth and we are told that to look like ourselves is not enough. So not only does the industry create insecurities in people but it feeds on them. Everywhere we are bombarded by images of the idealised person from the covers of the glossy magazines to images on TV or social media selling cosmetics, diet plans, Botox, cosmetic surgery.

In particular, social media has created a very visually based public platform were it now becomes acceptable to criticise people for the way they look with little or no repercussions.

  • estimate that 94% women and 84 % of men are affected by body shaming in some form or other.

  • A UK Govt Report said that up to 60% of adults feel ashamed of how they look.

Some groups, including children and adolescents, are more vulnerable to body image. Body image dissatisfaction undermines self- confidence and contributes to a higher risk of depression. The UK government report (quoted above) concluded that a positive body image was a very important element of emotional well- being.

Body shaming may take many forms, some of the more common examples are

  • Fat shaming, (also associated with other negative stereotypes such as being lazy, worthless, poor self-control). Fat shaming does not suddenly make that person go out and join a gym. Instead it compounds their sense of failure and worthlessness and keeps them that way.

  • Being too thin or skinny. The Dept of health in Ireland estimates that 200,000 people may have an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating) with 400 new cases emerging every year. The number of of teenage girls (12 -18) with an eating disorder has doubled in the last 10 years. Eating disorders has been conclusively linked with dieting behaviour. (Cams)

  • Height - Too tall, too short

  • Having irregular facial features or teeth,

  • Our facial complexion

  • Size of Chest (women)

  • Lack of Physique (men)

Why do people body shame?

To gain Power and control – The bully tactic, to dominate and have power over another. In making another human being feel bad about themselves we can have power over them. I see this all the time in Domestic Abuse where women are told by their partners that they are fat and ugly who else would put up with them.

Social Comparison – We make up for our own inadequacies by comparing ourselves favourably to others. e.g. I may not be thin but at least I not any way as fat as her.

To mask our own hurt and fear – we strike out of our own hurt place. Instead of being able to say why a person’s behaviour has hurt us we look for flaws in their physical appearance and throw an insult or label them to their face or behind their back.

What can we do about body shaming?

As a counsellor and a life coach I am more interested in the reasons why people are unhappy with their bodies. There are reasons why people are overweight (comfort eating for low self-esteem, prolonged stress, not knowing how to create changes) or they starve themselves (low self-esteem, body dysmorphia). Regardless of our physical appearance, the important thing is being HAPPY and HEALTHY at the end of the day.

  • Learn to love the body that you’re in and make the most of it. When you love it instead of being ashamed and hiding it away or punishing it with impossible diets doomed to fail then, paradoxically, things will change for you. You may become more active outgoing, eat healthier and start making the most of yourself. Take up a hobby, get active, put your focus into that instead of fad diets that are punishing and don’t work in the long term.

  • Make the most of your assets. If you have great skin or a great smile focus on that.

  • Avoid getting caught up in conversations about weight and appearance as they lead to increased body dissatisfaction.

  • Refuse to shame another in that way and challenge others to do likewise. Tell your work colleague to address her disagreement with the boss directly instead of making fun of his weight behind his back.

  • If you know someone in your family or friend who struggles, love and accept that person for who they are. Ask yourself why changing their appearance should be a condition of your love or friendship.

  • Know that our physicality is only one aspect of our being and it is growing and changing all the time with the aging process. It is a fact of life that our body will eventually fail us or let us down, but it is the housing that contains our essence or spirit, so be kind to it treat it well and it may contain us for a bit longer.

  • Remember that being beautiful or having the perfect body is not a passport to happiness. Marilyn Munroe was considered the ideal women of her time both in face and figure – look where her beauty got her.


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