Most of us are familiar with the term, but understanding exactly what body shaming is, along with knowing how to respond to body shaming can make a huge difference to your mental wellbeing. Here’s what you need to know about how body shaming can affect a person, and how to respond when you hear or see it, whether or not it’s directed at you – and also how to ensure you don’t accidentally body shame yourself.
Body shaming is when a person criticizes the appearance, shape and/or size of someone else’s body. This can be done in overt and obviously negative ways – for example, questioning if a person should wear a certain type of clothing based on their physical shape and size. Body shaming also occurs in less obvious ways, such as disguising a body shaming comment as a compliment – a common example of this could be saying ‘Wow you look so skinny!’ To some, skinniness may be a goal, but to others it may be a problem for their mental or physical health. On top of that, body shaming can be presented as a health concern: ‘Maybe you should skip the cake and have fruit instead?’
Because of this, defining what body shaming is can feel tricky. That’s why it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid making comments about someone else’s body entirely.
Uncovering the reasons why people body shame others is even more complex. It is often assumed that body shaming and fat shaming are synonymous because people who don’t fit into a skinny body archetype tend to receive a lot of body shaming, both online and on the street. Keisha, aged 17, reports: “The ‘just-concerned’ body shamers are the worst. I don’t care if people want to criticize my body, but it’s the people who try to disguise nastiness as concern that really upset me.” Keisha’s point highlights the fact that we often body shame people who don’t fit into conventional ideas of what a body ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ look like. This is concerning, because in an age where prejudices are frowned upon, body prejudice is often seen as somehow acceptable.
Another motivating factor for body-shaming is often judgment – and we all can sadly be guilty of doing this. How many times have you seen someone either on the street or on social media and thought something judgemental about what they were wearing or how it looked on their shape? If you’ve ever done this, it doesn’t make you a bad person – but it is good to notice it and investigate why it happens to try to stop it from occurring in the future.Often we project our own insecurities onto others. Channel your energy into loving your own outfit and self rather than judging others.
The only way we can stop the harmful cycle of body shaming and its damaging impact on self-esteem is to focus on building each other up in ways that have nothing to do with our bodies. Focusing on what makes a person interesting, unique and intelligent really is the best way to boost everyone’s self esteem and wellbeing in the long run.