Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.

two women staring

Have you ever stopped to question, ‘why I am entertaining other people’s messages’?

What is it about the human psyche that causes us to feel a need to appease others? Are we conditioned to be a passive society? Do we listen to the words of others because it makes us feel accepted?

We live in a society that is conditioned by the media, our educational system, our communities, our neighbors, places of worship and our families. From our earliest of memories, we are taught what is right and what is wrong. We are informed of what to wear and what not to. We have been told by a variety of practitioners what our ideal weight and height should be. Our parents may have even been given a growth chart to track our weight and height throughout our development. As a society, we have become very conditioned to think that our bodies must fit into a specific set of parameters. It is strangely funny that we have a need not only to track our body mass index, but that every person must fall within a certain guideline.

The world is so obsessed with body image that there are ads that target specific issues. Beauty magazines are constantly offering tips on how to lose weight; to improve your appearance; what clothes to wear and what not to; and why we should care.

What is Body Shaming?
Body shaming is not gender, weight, height, or body specific. At its core, body shaming is the intentional act to humiliate another. It occurs through mocking, critical comments and shaming related to one’s body type. It is the intent of an individual not only to humiliate another, but to cause them to conform to a specific standard. Body shaming is anything that causes an individual to feel shame or disgust in relationship to his or her own body. It perpetuates a false impression of the right body type and fuels self-doubt and issues related to self-esteem. It contributes to a number of psychological, physiological and mental health disorders.

Body shaming may be a projection of one’s own perceptions and worldview placed on the canvas of another. If I am not comfortable in my own skin, then I may deflect my own insecurities onto the image of another. Essentially, body shaming is anything that compromises the integrity and security of another.

Shame has become the norm in our society. We live in a world where we are taught to be jealous of one another. Jealousy is fostered through the media by images of the perfect body and the perfect look. The media is not the only one to blame; television and the movies have a major influence on the ever evolving and changing definition of the ideal body. In today’s society, the problem with the concept of the ideal body is unrealistic and unattainable for a majority of people. We, as a society, are also to blame for this unrealistic and often unattainable body type.

The media is so enamored with the “perfect body” that ad campaigns often reflect it. In 2014, Victoria Secret had an ad campaign called “The Perfect Body” which was promoting the “Body” lingerie line. The backlash had a boomeranging effect and could be felt globally. Victoria Secret had made a major misstep in its ad campaign. Ad campaigns are not the only ones to blame for body shaming. Body shaming occurs throughout our society and is no longer isolated to the well-known. In recent years, there has been an uptick of body shaming occurring on social media. According to a study conducted by the Dove Beauty Company, there are more and more women looking to social media for beauty tips, inspiration, and confirmation of their personal beauty. Sadly, Doves findings are alarming. Here are some key findings from our recent study- The Real Truth About Beauty: Revisited

  • Only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful (up from 2% in 2004)
  • Only 11% of girls globally are comfortable describing themselves as ‘beautiful’
  • 72% of girls feel tremendous pressure to be beautiful
  • 80% of women agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful, but do not see their own beauty
  • More than half of women globally (54%) agree that when it comes to how they look, they are their own worst beauty critic

While Dove did not examine men, I am willing to bet that the same would hold true for men as well. Men are frequently bombarded with messages of masculinity and the right body type. Men are just as vulnerable, susceptible and impressionable as women. The truth is, it remains a silent discussion that we have yet to openly explore.

Why Does Body Shaming Occur?
How does body shaming affect us?

Body shaming occurs for many different reasons. While the reasons may vary, the outcome of the shame remains the same. Whether the body shaming is intentional or not, it has an ability of decaying the perception of self and worldview.

  • Parents often have the best of intentions, but not all parents are equipped to communicate concern. Be diligent that you are supportive of your child and not the cause of your child’s feelings of vulnerability. You may have a desire for your children to thrive and be well, but focusing too much energy on a child’s physique, can cause your child to develop internal issues related to his or her own self-esteem and self-image.
  • The media focuses a great deal of its attention on the perceived perfect body. The idolization of body types can be an attraction for someone who feels that they are unattractive or that they have the wrong body type.
  • Being uncomfortable in your own body can skew your perceptions and worldviews. It’s critically important that you are not only comfortable with your own body type, but that you are accepting of your body.
  • Commenting on an individual’s choice of food or beverage can create apprehension and become an individual’s internal dialogue. Be diligent to focus on nutrition rather than diet.
  • Be aware of the language with which you are communicating. Body shaming occurs through the least obvious of gestures and communications. If you are joking that someone is too thin or too fat, they may internalize this communication as shame.
  • When we place too much emphasis on an individual’s physical appearance rather than his or her abilities, talents, and state of mind.
  • Judging an individual’s sexuality can be a catalyst of an individual feeling shame and embarrassment. Our sexuality is the way with which we express ourselves and reveal our bodies. Judging an individual based on the way with which they dress can create an overly conscience individual concerned about their own appearance.
  • Judging someone based on issues with body image. An individual who is struggling with body issues will only feel more intense issues if they are pressured to do the opposite.
  • Placing too much emphasis on being thin can have a negative effect.
  • Let us not forget that there are no absolutes when it comes to body image. The issues span all weights and body types. It ranges from individuals struggling with being overweight, underweight and at the right weight.

Do not be confused with body shaming and concern for our health. There are people who are genuinely concerned for our health and well-being, but they too can be confused with the two. There are individuals who may be shaming us through a veil of concern. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between genuine care and shaming.

Body shaming is not exclusively a female issue, rather it is everyone’s issue. Men also have issues with feeling and experiencing body shame. We seldom consider the fact that men struggle just like their counterpart. Body shaming knows no allies. It occurs in the gym, on the track, in the boardroom, in your home. The media is the greatest instigator of body shaming. The messages created by the media often employ attractive individuals posing with a product, but in reality, the attractive model may never even have tried this product.

The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, “has estimated that only 5% of North Americans have body types similar to those portrayed in the media.” Are you trying to live up to the media’s hype of perfection? Are you going to continue to allow the media to define you?

Learning to unconditionally love, accept, and approve of yourself does not have to be a lifelong journey. Do not be dismayed if the journey has a few curves or obstacles in the road. You are capable of achieving a life beyond the shame. After all, you are a person worthy and capable of being the best you.

We need a global lesson on unconditional acceptance, approval and love. We must realize that we are so much more than this outer shell called our body. You are a person deserving of unconditional love, acceptance and approval. You must begin recognizing and believing that you are deserving of the best. We must stop shaming and judging people based on their body type. If you are feeling overwhelmed with social media, consider taking a break. Be mindful of the conversations you have with others, and do not entertain conversations that are belittling or unbecoming. Do your best to avoid conversations or messages that are not uplifting of your person. Body shaming occurs for many different reasons, but the greatest of these is our acceptance of the message. Without the acceptance, the shame has no leverage in our lives.

Reference Provided Upon Request
Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S. Website: