Body shaming: a problem that affects us all

Feeling dissatisfied from time to time about your appearance and feeling a little ashamed is normal. To whom has never occurred to look at yourself in the mirror and say: “I have to go to the hairdresser: as this hair color makes me look old”, or “maybe if I lost a couple of kilos it would not hurt.” As long as this remains a momentary thought, that passes without adding anxiety, or perhaps even pushes us to improve, it is nothing worrying.

Different is when it becomes not only a thought, but also a constant shame, and that turns into an impediment.

Our current culture is a predominantly visual culture and also very much tending towards the virtual in which therefore appearance gets a dominant place. This leads to an increase in problems that can be associated with a physical appearance considered not optimal, or otherwise not meeting the dominant aesthetic standards. In fact, there is a notion of “beauty” that is subject to norms that, of course, vary depending on the era and culture so there will always be those who remain outside these norms.

Not matching to the notion of beauty, accepted and shared by society, can, in addition, lead to feeling inadequate, to suffer what we can define as a new trend that rages especially on social media, social media of which we cannot underestimate the importance in a visual and virtual society like the present: body shaming. Body shaming is defined by M. Grandi in his book Far Web[2] as “a new trend of those who, on social media, offend and make fun of people’s bodies, especially that of female users”, but in fact body shaming is not only the prerogative of the web. In a broad sense, as the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary specifies, it is defined as “the practice of making negative comments about a person’s body shape or size”, whereby you can be the object of body shaming in any social context. It is also true, however, that the web amplifies and makes this practice easier since certain comments, which are written while being protected by the anonymity of the web, would not perhaps be uttered in person, since the person who makes them would not have the courage to expose themselves “face to face”.

Body shaming affects the body image of those who suffer this attack. Each of us has his own body image and is human and normal to want to be attractive, but remember that body image goes beyond the simple concept of “being attractive” when looking in the mirror. It also includes how you imagine yourself in your own mind, also implying what the person believes about their appearance, how he or she feels with their body and how they perceive it physically.

Women appear more prone to both body shaming and the consequences of this practice. Taking into account the Objectification Theory (B. L. Fredrickson & T.-A. Roberts, 1997) we cannot fail to notice how our current society pushes women to internalize the point of view of the one who observes them. Young women, but especially girls, learn to take an interest in all those bodily aspects that others can observe at the expense of the self-awareness of their emotional states and their own inwardness. From this we move to the so-called self-objectification, that is, to the continuous monitoring at the total expense of inner awareness, opening the door to the increase of both shame and anxiety. As Tiggeman et al. showed. in their 2001 study,[1] as age increases, while dissatisfaction with one’s body tends to remain stable, habitual body monitoring and anxiety about one’s appearance tend to decrease. Precisely for this reason it seems necessary to act on young people, both to avoid body shaming by preventing it, and to contain its consequences.

Being subject to body shaming can lead to the development of psychological problems, especially if body shaming is very frequent or, for whatever reason, its impact on the person who suffers it is high. The most frequently reported psychological problems are anxiety, depression and social isolation, but not only that, body shaming can also lead to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.

Especially girls, who are more subject than others to the pressure of social media, may tend to want to change their body to adapt to theoretical dictates of society with a whole series of increasingly negative consequences.

Body shaming also, sometimes, ends up being a problem for both the shamer and the shamed. In fact, the shamers are often led to make similar criticisms about their own appearance and end up not being able to accept their own body with its qualities and its flaws.

Given that body shaming is nothing more than a form of bullying, it will tend to continue to be present, as indeed happens for any kind of bullying, as much as one strives to contain it. For this reason, the action must be carried out not only on those who suffer body shaming but also on those who practice it.

Practicing self-acceptance and self-love is the first step to take while also trying to don’t pay attention to negative comments. In addition, it is important to realize that the ideal images that we see representing the “beautiful” woman (or even the man) are usually only images produced as result of the skillful use of Photoshop and, while seeming real, they are not. Also understand that not only the specific type of body proposed is not the only one acceptable, and that each of us has his own beauty. Reject the objectification, and especially self-objectification that is a key factor in feeling ashamed of one’s body; in fact, the more a person falls into self-objectification the more a person tends to be ashamed so it creates a loop in which the shame that the subject feels makes them focus more and more on their own body and consequently creates even more shame: interrupting this loop is essential. One must stop thinking to the body as an object that’s existence and well-being depend on the acceptance, approval or disapproval made by others and, consequently, stop thinking of oneself as an object, a decoration, subject to the approval of others.

We can all then do something even if we are not shamed, in particular, if we see episodes of body shaming online, we must report them and point them out as inappropriate content so that they are contained.

Dr. Patrizia Pietropaolo

 

[1]Matteo Grandi Far Web Rizzoli 2017

[2]Tiggemann, M., & Lynch, J. E. (2001). Body image across the life span in adult women: The role of self-objectification. Developmental Psychology, 37(2), 243–253.)

 

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