Taking a closer look at body shaming – the practice of criticizing someone based on their body shape or size.

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If you’re like many people, you may likely spend a lot of time browsing your social media feed commenting or liking things that pique your interest. While most of the time it can harmless fun, you may have seen the downside of social media, which is body shaming.

Body shaming is a concept that has gathered quite a lot of public attention over the years. The fact that somebody thinks your body doesn’t fit their ideal standard and that you should feel bad about it is happening worldwide — and it’s not limited to one gender.

Learning about body shaming may be the first step in figuring out how it can be stopped.

Body shaming is the act of making negative comments regarding someone’s weight or size. People who are overweight are frequently subjected to being “too fat” and people who are underweight are often criticized for looking “too skinny.”

Body shaming can occur against any gender, and the statistics are alarming.

A survey by the Obesity Action Coalition reported that 58% of high school boys and 63% of high school girls medically classified as overweight experienced daily bullying about the size or shape of their bodies.

What are the types of body shaming?

Body shaming most often refers to someone’s body. However, other attributes of a person’s physical appearance can also be targeted. Such as:

  • weight
  • attractiveness
  • age
  • clothing
  • body hair
  • food
  • being trendy
  • makeup

Although people come in many different shapes and sizes, anyone can still be subjected to body shaming whether it’s subtle or inadvertent. Sometimes people can even accidentally shame others or even themselves.

Body shaming can happen anywhere and in any culture. It can also occur on social media, at your doctor’s office, and even in your relationships.

Ingrained in ethnic cultures

Social media and society might not be the areas you’ve experienced body shaming. Several studies have explored body shaming engrained in ethnic cultures. Although the terms vary, examples can be found in all cultures.

Terms of endearment like “gordo” or “flaco” in Spanish or in Filipino culture can mean being shamed for having a softer frame. You may have experienced internal stress or self-esteem issues from others using the terms. Here’s what research says about cultural body shaming.

Indigenous people living in Western countries often experience fat shaming.

A 2019 paper discussed how fat shaming has been around for generations in Indigenous groups. Many people are told they are “fat” and less productive because of their size.

Different cultural groups may have different body ideals. Perhaps your skin tone, hair texture, or face shape may have been called out.

A 2015 study examined body image concerns among African American women and found that hair and skin tone were given more priority over concerns about thinness, which are more typical among White women.

In a 2021 study of more than 950 “sexual minorities,” study authors found alarming rates of Hispanic males ages 18 to 30 experiencing:

  • symptoms of eating disorders and disordered eating
  • body dysmorphic disorder
  • appearance and performance-enhancing drug misuse
  • excessive drive for muscularity

In media

This era is the image-heavy age of social media, where the focus on appearance is stronger than ever. It appears fat shaming is becoming more and more prevalent in cyberspace as people share unfiltered photos.

According to an older survey conducted by Glamour magazine in the early 2000s, 97% of women admit to having an “I hate my body” moment.

Examples: What body shaming looks like on social media

A 2018 study reviewed posts of cyberbullying and fat shaming online. Here are some stereotypical notions on Twitter and other social media about those who respondents felt were overweight:

  • “Fat people are not ‘really people,’ they don’t deserve to be treated like people.”
  • “To gain so much weight, they must be lazy, greedy, unmotivated, and have poor self-discipline.”
  • “Fat people are stupid, lazy, and dirty. We (fat women) are constantly told that we are animals (pigs, cows, heifers) while fat men are insulted as having ‘feminine bodies.’”
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In medicine

Body shaming can happen at your doctor’s office and sometimes even block a diagnosis. Research has found that if doctors are only looking at weight, they can miss a diagnosis.

A 2019 report found that more than 3 in 5 adults who are obese encounter weight bias from their doctors. They also found people who were exposed to weight bias were more likely to develop obesity even if they were thin beforehand.

In relationships

Body shaming can happen within any relationship, whether it’s be romantic or a friendship, or even an enmeshed relationship.

Your partner may prefer a different kind of body type or “look” on you. A friend or family member may mention you look a little curvier than usual or express concern when noticing your weight loss. Any comments like these may affect your self-esteem.

Mental health effects of body shaming

Although body shaming refers to a person’s physical appearance, it can also have an impact on your overall well-being.

Potential mental health consequences associated with body shaming include:

While we cannot control the actions of others, we can control how we contribute to the body-shaming culture.

Making a point to be more inclusive and accepting of others regardless of their shape or size, as well as not engaging in any type of shaming can help everyone’s mental wellness.

If you’ve been affected by body shaming and feel it’s taking a toll on your mental health, know that you are not alone. Consider finding a community and assistance through support groups or a therapist who can help you navigate your way through these negative emotions.

Want to learn more about self-acceptance and how you can respond to body shaming? Here are some helpful links.