A recent study by the Obesity Action Coaltionreported that 63% of girls and 58% of boys experienced bullying about the size or shape of their body. We know that bullying can have a dramatic effect on self-esteem, can lead to serious mental health concerns and even cause someone to take their own life. Bullying around our bodies leaves a lasting impact on us, and it is something that I have often heard clients talk about in their eating disorder recovery. Body shaming is a prevalent and insidious form of bullying that shouldn’t be tolerated in our culture.

What exactly is body shaming?
It is a concept that has garnered more public attention in recent years, yet we still have many misconceptions about it..Body shaming is the practice of publicly or privately criticizing someone based upon body shape or size. It isn’t limited to making judgments or criticisms about people who we perceive to be overweight, it also applies to criticisms about people’s weight or body shape whatsoever. Here are some forms of body shaming that you might not even have realized were considered body shaming.

Fat-Shaming: This is the form of body shaming that most people think of. It means criticizing someone based on the perception that they are overweight. Calling names, making jokes, or using other negative language to describe someone who is perceived as fat all fall into this category of body shaming.

Fit-Shaming: This occurs when someone observes another person to be physically fit and makes negative commentaries about them. For example, a person might see someone who is very muscular and say they are “too muscular” or that they look “unnatural” or any other host of negative commentaries about their body shape. This form of body shaming is not better than criticizing someone for being overweight, it is still a hurtful criticism.

Skinny-Shaming: This form of body shaming occurs when someone is criticized for being too thin. A recent public example of this was when someone made negative commentaries to model Gig Hadid, such as a Twitter message telling her to “Eat a cheeseburger!” This form of body shaming is equally hurtful because it implies there is something wrong with a skinny person’s body shape or size.

Showy-Shaming: This occurs when someone criticizes another person for displaying their body in some way. For example, if a person posts a picture of themselves in a swimsuit and another person criticizes them for doing so, that is a form of body shaming. It implies that they should feel ashamed of their bodies or keep their body private, when the truth is you have the right to present your body however you like.

The inherent problem with all these forms of body shaming is that they send the message that we are not supposed to like or accept our bodies unless they conform to a certain standard set by someone else. Additionally, body shaming involves making negative snap judgments about a person, who we often do not even know well, based on solely one factor, the way we perceive their body. Every person has a different body constitution, that’s what makes us all so special, and we need to accept and embrace these differences.

Why do people body shame?
Body shaming is a problem that resides within the individual who is doing the body shaming. It often comes from a sense of insecurity regarding their own body. The person who shames someone who they perceive as overweight has insecurity about being overweight themselves. By shaming the other person and psychologically distancing themselves from that person, it temporarily assuages their fear and insecurity about becoming the other person. When someone criticizes another person for being fit or showy it also involves insecurity tinged with envy. The person wishes they could be comfortable enough with themselves to display their body without fearing the judgment of others. Skinny-shaming can sometimes come from a misplaced sense of concern, and this sense of concern creates psychological discomfort with them and quickly changes into scorn. The comments made to Gigi Hadid were not meant to inform her that someone might be worried she was not being adequately nourished, they were meant to shame her. And shame is never an effective means of expressing care for someone.

What can we do about body shaming?
If we want the world to be a place where people can love and accept their bodies, we have to first pay attention to the types of judgments we make about bodies. Body shaming doesn’t have to be a public phenomenon. Sending out a nasty Tweet is not the only way to body shame, we can also body shame internally, both of which need to be addressed.Start by making a commitment NOT to make comments about any persons’s body to others, through any medium.. Here the old adage applies, ‘if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ Silence instead of shame is a good way to stop perpetuating the phenomenon of body shaming. Then, you can turn inwards and examine your own motives for the judgmental comments you make about others’ bodies. It is likely that with close self-reflection you will find that you make judgmental comments about your own body as well.Everyone deserves to feel good about their body, to accept, care for and love their body. So if you find yourself internally criticizing others’ bodies, it is likely you could benefit from receiving some extra compassion and care about your own body. I hope that by each of us taking a closer look at how body shaming hurts us all, we can commit to catching our own judgments and compassionately work towards creating an environment in which people stop being judged based on their appearance.

Matt Keck, MFT is the Founder and CEO of Cielo House Comprehensive Eating Disorder Treatment programs. He works to create an environment in which people of all shapes and sizes can love and care for their bodies.

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