Mexican gymnast Alexa Moreno made headlines two weeks ago, not for her performance in the Rio Olympics, but for the body shaming taking place behind the scenes on Twitter. While most of us can agree this is not what we should be focusing on, why do we continue to comment on others’ bodies and how is this destructive to our own self-images?
First, let’s break down what we mean by “shame”. Brené Brown, leading expert on shame and vulnerability research, defines shame as: “the intense painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” When we shame others, by name-calling, criticizing, expressing disgust, we are therefore indicating that this person is not worthy of love and belonging. It shows a disapproval of acceptance into our societal norms as to what is “good” and what is “bad”.
For women, appearance and body size is one of the top areas we feel the most shame. We seek approval from others, not from our accomplishments or acts of kindness, but our appearances. It would make sense then, that when we make negative comments about other women’s bodies, that they do not just experience embarrassment, but deep-seeded shame.
So aside from being kinder in general, why else does it matter that we stop body shaming ourselves and others? For one, areas in which we shame others tend to be reflective of areas we feel insecurities within ourselves. Body shaming others likely indicates a higher dissatisfaction with one’s own appearance, and increase body shaming of ourselves. Additionally, body shaming may also be linked to poorer levels of overall health and wellness. In a 2015 study by Jean Lamont from Bucknell University, results showed that women with higher levels of body shaming tend to be more susceptible to infections and negative health consequences. Lamont found: “Feeling body shame predicts poor physical health, because those feelings may lead women to be less responsive to their bodies and do a worse job of evaluating how healthy they are.”
Do you need help to end the cycle of body shaming? Individual therapy at Emily Cook Therapy in Bethesda, MD can help. We’ll help you examine areas of insecurity, and understand the reasons behind body shaming yourself and, perhaps others, in harmful ways. You therapist will focus on YOU, on your accomplishments and positive traits. Just like how, for Alexa Moreno, it’s about her Olympic accomplishments on the balance beam.
This post was written by Colleen McCarron, LCPC, an individual counselor and eating disorder specialist at Emily Cook Therapy in Bethesda, MD.