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BODY IMAGE - Shamed & Confused

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Is anyone comfortable with their body? Are women raised to be full of shame about their bodies? Why do we judge each other so bitterly? Has body shaming always existed? Who sets the standards? How can you accept your physical appearance?

Shamed and Confused

It is no surprise that many women feel bad about their bodies no matter their age, shape, size, weight, or height, and it can involve many physical aspects they may reject on any given day. Too this, too that, not enough this, not enough of that, need more of this and less of that. The "shame" list trails down every windy road with no destination and suffering upon every step. We get filled with self-doubt and anguish. We get stuck in the unacceptability of the very vessel that keeps us alive. We don't appreciate our amazing human body and how incredible it is that all the parts function together. Our body serves us every day whether we value it or not. Our bodies grow, hurt, heal, and repair while evolving. This miraculous body is not lacking, but women's bodies are put to shame under the scrutiny of societal norms, expectations, status, and messaging. You may get lost in confusion and shame others as a way to cope.

A woman weighing herself on the scale in her bathroom.
The Scale

Sized Up

We may be conditioned to believe we are unworthy, not good enough, less than, or inadequate in some way. This suppression usually starts from outside influences and works in our psyche. Even with the most supportive and loving parent(s) or guardian, the innocence of childhood changes from imagination to reality based as we grow into early teens and encounter our peer groups in ways we may not have experienced yet. Without pause, judgment and shame begin. We reach outward for acceptance and look for places where we feel comfortable. We discover our interests and forge ahead to find ground in a communal setting. It isn't all smooth sailing, and we see patches of rough waters that need us to learn more navigational skills.

Maybe you recall lining up with peers at school and waiting to see what team would pick you for some type of competition, usually a sport. First, the coach or teacher chooses the two student leaders to decide their teams. The two leads go back and forth, choosing who they want on their team next. You wait with patience and fear all rolled up in one emotion; as the line gets shorter, your heart beats faster. The shame of not feeling good enough to be chosen first, second, or third slowly produce a blush of sweat and possibly tears.

You have to find thoughtful and emotional resources within. Although we are acclimated to believing our value lies with what the other person, our peers, or what society says about us and may lean toward judgment rather than understanding and compassion. We need to learn that the person you can trust the most is yourself. Trust your intuition and ability to gather all the necessary information to make solid decisions and encounter life situations.

Having had the experience of being chosen last, it made me realize at that moment that the two people choosing teammates weren't sizing up skills or building the best team; it was about who they liked or had been friends with longer. Does that make me less than others? No, it doesn't. Feeling slightly crushed, I mustered up the courage to bring my authentic self. I played the game to the best of my ability and felt good about my effort. I would listen to the coach's advice and adapt to change. It wasn't about them choosing me last. It was about me choosing myself first. To be part of a group effort and bring my best. I learned how not to feel ashamed and not to shame others. Afterward, I became part of many team sports, from soccer to basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, and dance. I felt less afraid when I realized I did not need to feel shame. I just needed to bring my authentic self and play my best game.

An athletic black woman working out.
Strong Woman

The Spiral

Body image is a personal experience, yet we rely too much on others' opinions, or maybe others think we need their constant feedback to keep us in check. The shame game becomes interactive with self-talk and reciprocating shame onto others either in retaliation or as a way to dump our pain onto someone else. Just like other abusive constructs, we need to break the cycle.

If you spend time in the shame game, you are not spending time in the self-development phases of your life. Life is full of opportunities to see the self and others as human. We come into this world with innocence and, over time, build walls to keep in or out thoughts of shame and destructive criticism. While constructive criticism is intended for a person to see mistakes or oversights and course correct, fierce criticism intends to debase and control. Repeated derogatory messages can damage the psyche, especially when we do it ourselves.

Imagine feeling good at that moment, and someone negatively comments on your weight. They try to soften the blow by saying, "I care about your health." But the damage is done, and you feel depleted. You may think, "Why can't they accept me and what I look like?"

You know thin people also have health issues too. Thin people can have high blood pressure and heart disease. People of any weight can have eating disorders. What about mental health? Can someone say they are concerned about your health and not include your mental health in the equation? Shaming a person about their weight, size, or shape be it thin or heavy, or any other physical characteristic can and often does affect their mental health. There are many ways you may get your mind circling in thoughts of self-criticism—the dreaded spiral effect, where the mind gets caught up in a negative spiral.

Centering self on the negative is so harmful to health and well-being. The more destructive the information, the worse you may feel. It makes it hard to solve problems or regulate emotions. Why is it so hard to shift to a more positive mindset?

"Body shaming is any act that criticizes a person's body shape, size, weight, or other physical characteristic. Body shaming stems from a long history that separates people by class, race, ability, and socio-economic status. Body shaming can have detrimental effects on body image and mental health"

Making Space

Can you make space for self-acceptance and do the same for others? Can you let your mind settle and compose itself to receive positive internal and external experiences? Can we set ourselves apart by being authentic? No two people experience any given situation the same way. That is why it is so essential to keep a healthy mindset. It would be best to undo what has been done. It is kind of like scraping off the burnt layer of the toast to be able to eat it. People, in essence, burn us with their negative comments; we hear, see and feel negative opinions.

Every day is a day to make space for yourself to acknowledge your body and appreciate all it does to function in aliveness. Make space for yourself to say today, "I choose me first," "I am good enough," "I am strong and capable and have much to offer," and "I only need to be the best version of myself."

When you give yourself space for self-acceptance, you are healing the hurts within. It helps you become stronger and builds the foundation you need to thrive in this shaming culture.

A hand touching water and makes a ripple effect
Hand Touching Water

Media Meltdown

Society idealizes specific body shapes or parts, but no two bodies are identical. Idealization is a way to regulate and control the narrative. Thank goodness, in recent years, the beauty industry has shifted to embrace all shapes and sizes in its marketing campaigns. Your dollars have power, so spend them with companies who market their products, including all body shapes, sizes, ages, cultures, and backgrounds.

Advertisers will continue to use marketing messages that entice you to buy their products or services. Our media-obsessed culture will use data and algorithms in your scrolling feed to keep you scrolling. But you can choose to use products and services to help maintain a healthy lifestyle and not be shamed into making those decisions. As you embrace yourself in all life's stages of development and growth, you will begin to appreciate your offerings and others. Make space for yourself today, knowing you don't need to be perfect to be included in the conversation.

Stripped Away

In today's social and political climate, women's rights are being stripped away, leading to other human rights being on the chopping block. Don't be shocked by the need to rise to meet the challenge collectively. The opposition wants us to come from a place of weakness and vulnerability by claiming what is rightfully our own, the vessel that keeps us alive; the human body. When we are being shamed and controlled, we must stop body shaming ourselves and each other to keep from further weakening the vessel. We must support each other and stop body shaming so we come from a strong and stable place.

Yes You Can

Say yes to self-acceptance today.

Can saying yes to self-acceptance today make you feel better? YES, it can. It can be a struggle to cycle through negative self-talk rather than give yourself space to find meaning in your life. I don't think anyone goes without the old recordings that can play back repeatedly. The thoughts of shame can create self-doubt and often center on the physical. Maybe, you like yourself spiritually and intellectually, but seeing yourself in a physical nature may bring the onset of triggers. Especially triggering when negative messaging can be seen, read, or heard and spend too much time absorbing the harmful content. Self-acceptance takes your participation. You may consciously know that already, but if you're not actively seeking inner self-acceptance, you're not developing the skill. It is kind of like working out to build muscle strength. The self-acceptance muscle. It takes repetitious and regular practice. Being mindful of your thoughts, behavior, activities, and how much time you spend consuming information that makes you feel less well. Reel it in, pull back, and shift gears. There is a library of curiosity and uncharted territories if you allow yourself time to discover what fulfills you. You can self-care and maintain healthy habits while avoiding fat or skinny shaming or shaming any part of your physical characteristics. I had experienced multiple eating disorders, especially when I was younger. I felt so ashamed and disappointed in myself, focusing on body parts that are not fulfilling a standard or what society projects as a standard of beauty, while binging and purging or severely restricting food intake. Since eating disorders are often a dark secret or what feels secretive, it is vital to know you do not need to suffer in the darkness. If you are experiencing any eating disorders, reach out for help.

You can find the balance in what seems to be a one-way street of shame and self-destruction. Creating a healthy mindset, stabilizing emotions, and a spiritual center takes your whole self. It is okay to feel better about yourself one day at a time.

A woman in blue spandex stretching her legs

Stop the Judgment

It may be true that people tend to be their own worse critics. The harder you are on yourself, the more challenging it is to feel self-acceptance. You also deplete your energy by playing the loop of negative self-talk. If you tend to speak negatively about yourself, you may be motivated to project those thoughts and feelings onto others. Or even people not in your life but you feel compelled to subject your disdain on social media. It becomes a vicious cycle of self-judgment and judging others. Understanding that your thoughts link to your overall health and well-being may encourage you to end the shame game. For self-acceptance to shine through, it is a valuable trait to put the brakes on shame and stop self-judgment; it may also help you to stop being judgmental of others. The goal is to build your resilience and feel better about yourself and, in turn, help others feel better about themselves. If you stop judging others, it may help you stop being so harsh on yourself.

Give it a try; you are worth the effort.

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Mind, Body, & Spirit - A Three-Pronged Approach

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