Body shaming is a horrible thing to experience. It wears away at one’s self-esteem, and can create emotional and psychological damage that may last a lifetime.
This kind of damage can be even more insidious when we do it to ourselves, as there doesn’t seem to be a way to escape from the onslaught.
So how can people stop body shaming themselves? And how can (or should) they respond if they’re shamed by others? Let’s take a look at where this kind of negative talk stems from and how it can be dealt with.
What is body shaming, exactly?
In simplest terms, body shaming is when others make negative, hateful, or otherwise inappropriate remarks about another person’s physical form.
These could be targeted toward weight (too fat, too thin), ethnic traits (kinky hair, monolid eyes), physical differences (disability, disfigurement), or a lack of idealized traits, just to name a few.
They’re unsolicited observations or remarks from other people, and are typically spoken to hurt or humiliate the other.
Other times, supposedly well-meaning friends or family members might make these comments under the cover of “just trying to help,” even though their idea of “help” was never asked for.
When it comes to body shaming oneself, it’s creating a constant internal narrative full of those types of insults and criticisms. The shame comes from the self, and is directed at the self, creating a really awful type of internal shame spiral. It is more common than you think.
Negative thoughts about one’s appearance are common. In a survey conducted by Today/AOL, over half of adults admit to having negative thoughts about the way they look at least once a week.
What are some examples of body shaming from other people?
There are countless ways that people body shame others. These can range from very blunt, overt criticism to subtle backhanded compliments. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones:
- A family member or partner asking “do you really need to eat X?” in reference to something that may be high in calories or fat.
- Someone saying “you’re so brave to wear that,” implying that the body you have isn’t suitable for a piece of clothing you’ve chosen.
- Comments telling a very thin person to go eat a sandwich.
- Saying that a “REAL” woman/man has X trait, thus implying that whoever doesn’t have it isn’t real somehow.
- Being mocked for not being able to “pass” during or after undergoing gender transition. Or being told that you make an ugly version of the gender you identify as.
- Friends telling you that they’re worried about your health.
- Someone saying that another should try a particular diet or exercise regimen because it’ll be so good for them.
- Comments about how a person would be “so much better looking” with a different hair color or style.
- Healthcare professionals who imply that your weight is wholly responsible for particular health issues.
- Parents who compare your appearance to how they looked at your age.
- Friends and colleagues telling someone that they look terrible, or tired, or need to put on some makeup.
- Family members implying that a person will never be loved or wanted unless they change their body shape or dress differently.
- Comments about how your partner must “really love you” to stay with you despite your physical appearance or disability.
- Parents commenting on how they wish you had inherited X physical traits instead of the inferior ones you have.
- A romantic partner offering to pay for breast implants so you’re more physically attractive to them.
- Family members telling you what to wear to hide your “flaws,” or hairstyles to try so you look less like your ethnicity and more like a preferred one instead.
- “You’re really good looking for your size/height/ethnicity, able-bodiedness.”
- Comments on an abundance of body hair (or lack thereof).
- A guy being mocked in the locker room for having small genitals or a soft chest.
- People who share their disgust at the thought of intimacy with you because of X physical trait.
- Asking if someone has lost or gained weight, because they look great. The person might be dealing with a health concern or personal trauma, yet others are commenting on how the physical manifestation of pain or grief is making them look “better” in others’ eyes.
How do people body shame themselves?
This expands upon the previous section in that people often shame themselves based on comments they’ve heard from others.
For example, a woman who’s constantly mocked for having an unfeminine “boy body” might glare at herself every time she looks in the mirror, or might insist on keeping a shirt on in bed so lovers don’t have a chance to mock her small breast size.
Alternatively, someone who feels bad about a certain physical trait might turn to self-deprecating humor as a coping mechanism. After all, if they make fun of themselves and their perceived “flaws,” then it won’t hurt as much when and if someone else does it, right? Except that kind of constant negative self-talk wears away at the psyche bit by bit, rather like chipping away at a stone.
Some people might refrain from eating foods they love because they “don’t deserve” to enjoy those things, while others might not wear clothes they adore for the same reason.
One of the most common ways that people body shame themselves is with negative self-talk. They might think (or even say aloud) that they’re disgusting or otherwise “wrong” when getting dressed, or when they see a photo of themselves. They’ll criticize body parts, disliked features, etc. and feel extreme shame and self-loathing as a result.
How To Stop Shaming Yourself: 9 Helpful Tips
If you’ve gotten into the habit of being critical toward yourself, it’ll take a while to get out of that habit. In fact, if body shaming has been part of your daily routine since childhood, you’ll have to unlearn some very ingrained behaviors.
1. Be kinder to yourself.
This isn’t going to improve overnight, and you will undoubtedly have good days and bad days. That’s okay. Be gentle with yourself as you work on developing more compassion and kindness toward yourself.
One of the best ways to do this is to carry a notepad and pen with you, and write down all the negative things you catch yourself saying about your body over the course of several days. Then look at everything you’ve written down and ask how you would feel if anyone said those things about the people you love most in the world.
If jerks said those things about your children, siblings, best friend, partner, or parent, would you defend those people? Would you immediately soothe your loved ones’ feelings by reminding them of all the amazing traits they share with the world?
Then try to put yourself on the list of people you love most in the world. Every time you catch yourself saying something negative, or thinking something critical, remember the amazing things about yourself instead. Defend yourself as you would your best friend.
2. Remember that your worth is not dependent on what your physical form looks like.
Your brilliance, kindness, creativity, and overall awesomeness have absolutely nothing to do with the vessel you’re currently inhabiting. You are so much more than the flesh and bone and features that make up your external appearance.
3. Turn critical moments into opportunities for gratitude.
For example, when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, do you lament that your legs are too fat/too thin/too short/etc.? Instead, take a moment of sincere gratitude for the fact that they support you and take you to wonderful places.
Your skin allows you to feel hugs, sunshine, and summer breezes. You can experience so many incredible things with the body you have, so try to celebrate every opportunity you have.
The more you focus on gratitude, the less you’ll focus on aspects that are getting you down.
4. Cultivate mental and creative strengths.
If it is not within your power to be able to affect change, such as with a physical deformity, paralysis, etc., refocus that onto something mental instead. Your mind is your most powerful attribute, so pour your energy into things you can do with it rather than what you can’t do with your body.
Look at Professor Stephen Hawking. He was one of the world’s most influential scientists; a theoretical physicist and cosmologist whose work changed science forever. And he did his most prolific work while almost completely paralyzed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and unable to speak.
You can bet he was body shamed for most of his life, as he was diagnosed with this illness at age 21… and yet that shaming didn’t phase him, nor did it stop him from attaining immense successes over his 50-year career.
5. Try to stop comparing yourself to others.
Stop following Instagram and other social media accounts that make you feel like crap about yourself. Some people think that constantly looking at others whom they want to look like will inspire them, but it might be a good idea to examine the motivations behind that desire.
Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that many physical traits you see in photos are augmented. Dove captured this really eerily in their campaign for “real beauty” from several years back. In it, they showed how a woman was Photoshopped into an idealized version of herself for an advert.
Even if you compare yourself to others, it’s really important to keep in mind that bodies really can’t be compared to one another. Even identical twins will have differences in terms of metabolism, genetic predispositions, and the like.
6. Follow social media accounts that inspire you.
There are countless body positive accounts on Instagram, Twitter, etc. that are full of people of all shapes, sizes, hues, and able-bodiedness, celebrating diversity as they do spectacular things.
A quick online search for “body positive social media” plus the keywords that matter most to you can offer you hundreds of inspiring accounts to follow. Check out Ash Soto, Shane Burcaw, Ashley Graham, Keah Brown, Hannah Setzer, Stephanie Nielsen, Harnaam Kaur, The Self-Love Project, and The Everyman Project, just to name a few.
7. Become aware of any narratives you might be creating or perpetuating.
Body shaming is never okay. That said, other people might think that you’re okay hearing certain comments from them because you say them yourself. Furthermore, they might be confused if and when you engage in negative self-talk, and then berate them if they try to offer help or understanding.
As an example, let’s say that you complain to your colleagues regularly about how much you hate your nose. Then one day, someone pipes up that they can recommend a good plastic surgeon. If your response is “don’t body shame me!” then you can imagine why they would be confused.
Take note of what you say about yourself to others on a daily basis. If you find that you put yourself down around them, they might pick up on your cues and join in. Or their attempts to “help” might make you feel even worse.
If this happens, you can try to explain to them that you don’t need or want advice, and that although you’re going through a difficult patch, you’re trying to be more positive about yourself.
8. Work on self-acceptance.
You might wish that you had someone else’s height, eye shape, skin color, bone structure, or countless other traits. Meanwhile, they’re thinking the exact same thing about others around them.
Additionally, bodies change exponentially over time: a woman who’s gone through several pregnancies won’t have the same physique she had at 16, for example.
A guy might want to get together with someone he desires but is certain she won’t be attracted to him because he isn’t strong enough, old enough, young enough, virile enough.
Each of us has what we have. End of. We can try to change a few things about ourselves to shift our appearance more toward our personal preferences, but most of those changes will only be temporary.
You are enough.
9. Seek professional help.
If you find that you’re being really badly affected by the effects of body shaming, then you might want to talk to a therapist. Bullying, shaming, and other actions that cut down a person’s self-esteem can have serious long-lasting effects on one’s psyche.
In addition to eating disorders and self-harm, people can suffer from anxiety, depression, and adrenal fatigue. Or worse.
Don’t feel shame if you need to talk to a professional to help you work on all of this. Body shaming oneself is a difficult habit to break free from. Furthermore, being constantly belittled and criticized by so-called loved ones can be really hard to bear by yourself.
A therapist or counselor can help you develop stronger coping mechanisms and offer you guidance and support on how to deal with those who are tormenting you.
In some cases, outside intervention might be a good idea. For example, talking to HR if you’re being harassed in the workplace, or guidance counselors if you’re being mistreated at school.
4 Tips For Dealing With Shaming Remarks Or Behaviors From Others
There are a lot of tips out there on how to deal with shaming comments or behaviors from other people. These run the gamut from developing a thicker skin to telling them that they’re being hurtful.
It’s important to realize that if someone is body shaming you, then there’s something going on with them internally. Maybe there’s something about you that’s different, or that they dislike about themselves.
For some reason, some aspect about your physical form makes them uncomfortable, and the only way they can handle their confusing emotions is to try to tear you down.
That said, here are some things you can do when confronted with this type of behavior.
1. Try not to care about what others think of you.
This is easier said than done for a lot of people – especially those who are quite emotionally sensitive. That said, showing shamers that their words have absolutely no impact on you is a great way to shut them down.
Look at how children taunt one another. If the kid they’re picking on doesn’t respond, then the tormentors lose interest in their “game.”
On that same topic, try to look at body shamers as though they were little six-year-old kids. Would you feel insulted if a child told you that you were an ugly poopyhead? Probably not. So why would words from a taller version thereof affect you?
2. Catch shaming early and establish strong boundaries.
One of the best ways to curb these types of remarks is to nip them in the bud.
Let’s say a family member of the opposite sex makes disparaging remarks about your body. Try turning it around and telling them that they’re being perverted and inappropriate by even thinking about you in that way, let alone commenting on your form. That will make them rethink their words. They’ll be self-conscious about saying anything and will back off.
Similarly, if a work colleague makes a comment about your appearance, you can look them straight in the eye and ask if they think there’s some universe where commenting on how you look is appropriate.
Many parents who aren’t happy with how their lives turned out want life to be “better” for their kids. As a result, they might try to push their offspring to look a certain way in order to earn more appealing prospects. This could range from a more illustrious career to a higher ranking spouse.
As such, when they make shaming remarks in the guise of “just trying to help,” call them out on it. “What are you trying to help, exactly?” “You want me to be ‘better’ by whose standards?” “Do you not realize how you’re alienating me from you by constantly making me feel like crap?”
Quite often, they’re so engrossed with their end goal (e.g. “helping” you) that they don’t see the damage they’re causing. Calling them out on it and showing them what they’re doing can make a huge difference.
3. Don’t add fuel to the fire.
Many people tell others that they should “rise above” or “respond with love,” reminding them that hurt people end up hurting other people. Sure, that can work sometimes, but not always.
Although some folks suggest telling bullies and naysayers how hurtful they’re being, that usually has the same effect as throwing a gallon of blood into a shark tank. Predators attack the weak and vulnerable, and knowing that they’re hurting you will only make them more vicious.
For example, telling a group of teenagers that their hurtful comments are mean and may cause further low self-esteem in the future will just add schadenfreude-filled fuel to that fire. Similarly, telling a cantankerous grandparent that you love yourself just the way you are will likely have the same effect.
Keep responses short and sweet. Anything longer than a single, clipped sentence will end up falling on deaf ears, and/or will be used to mock you in the future.
Additionally, the responses you use will have to be tailored to the situation. Although indifference and diffusion can be a good course of action sometimes, other occasions require a sharper tone.
In fact, some people take such delight in harassing others that it takes a really harsh response to make them back off.
4. Cut them down and then cut them out.
(Note: do not try this tactic with narcissists or other manipulative and abusive types, or with anyone who you think/know has issues with their anger. It might put you in danger.)
This may not be a popular response, but it’s an effective one.
As mentioned before, responses like “rising above” and “just ignoring it” aren’t necessarily effective strategies. Sometimes, the best way to stop a dog from biting you is to bite them back significantly harder.
In situations like this, the absolute key is to stay calm. Don’t show the person that you’re emotionally flustered or upset at all. Keep your voice even, or perhaps show a whisper of amusement.
Remember that everyone has something that they’re insecure about. In fact, that’s usually where body shaming and other types of harassment stem from, as mentioned before. Chances are you’re already aware of at least one aspect that your tormentor is sensitive about. If patience, boundary-setting, and explanations aren’t working, then cut to the quick.
Is an aunt asking if you “really need” that slice of cake after dinner? Ask if she “really needs” to steal from her husband.
If a so-called friend tells you that they’re just “worried about your health,” respond that you’re worried about their drug use.
Did the bitchy chick at work insult your physique? You can respond with “Sorry, I don’t speak whore.”
Shock is often a really good way of silencing a person and bringing their attention back to their own crappy behavior, especially if there’s an audience present.
They’ll learn very quickly that they can’t insult you without consequences, including scrutinizing eyes being turned in their direction instead.
Few people like to have their own shortcomings served to them on a plate, and so they’ll avoid creating opportunities in which they might experience being triggered or embarrassed publicly themselves.
Catch yourself when and if you shame others, even subconsciously.
Many people who struggle with self-esteem and bad body image issues will project their hurts onto other people. Quite often, they’ll put others down for aspects or behaviors they feel ashamed about themselves.
As an example, someone who struggles with being overweight might put others down for being fat, or a person who’s physically unfit will mock “gym rats.”
If and when you catch yourself putting other people down, determine what your motivations are for doing so. That might offer you a glimpse into why other people say hurtful things to you in turn.
Once we’re aware of why we exhibit certain behaviors, we can take solid steps to improving them, right?
And, if we can stop body shaming others, it will help them to stop body shaming themselves and others too. The less shame we put into the world, the less shame there is to be absorbed and identified with. We can all choose to be a part of the solution, not the problem.
Remember: you are so much more than the sum of your appearance.
As mentioned before, these vessels of ours are temporary vehicles we’re using to explore the world while we’re here. They’re the only ones we have, and they do so much good for us on a constant basis.
We’re only here for a short period of time, and agonizing over aspects of our physical forms reduces the amount of joy we can have while we’re here.
Remember that there is no universal ideal when it comes to how a body “should” look. Every single living being is unique, and as such has a startling amount of beauty and magic to them. Some are able-bodied, others are disabled, and we all come in countless size, shape, and color combinations.
And all are magnificent exactly as they are.
If you are still reading, you’ll enjoy watching this slam poem “Will I Be Pretty?” by Katie Makkai. Its really powerful.
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