If there’s anything I know to be true, it’s that every human body is different. That’s right. Everybody and every BODY. There is no human body in the entire world that is the same as yours, not one. There may well be similarities, but there is no denying that everyone is completely unique.
Objectively, that’s a good thing. Everyone is individual and that’s something to be celebrated – which is why it’s all the more painful when an individual, or a group of people, shame you for the body you’re living in. It’s 100% a form of bullying – people intending to humiliate others by making critical comments about the way they look. But body shaming isn’t just humiliating: it can seriously affect your mental health and has been known to lead to depression, body dysmorphia and eating disorders. I’ve faced body shaming many times throughout my life, and have unfortunately succumbed to all of those disorders as a direct result of it.
Put simply, body shaming is one of those cruel and unnecessary things we could all really do without.
The Impact Of Body Shaming
Musician Billie Eilish entered the industry incredibly young, beginning her career aged 14. She made a point of wearing baggy but fun clothes which allowed her to perform and become an incredible artist without comment about her body from the public (or let’s be honest, men).
However, in October 2020, a candid paparazzi photo of Billie in a vest-top went viral, leading to a huge online discourse about her weight. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Billie opened up about her body image, the impact negative comments have had on her life.
“I think that the people around me were more worried about [the photo] than I was, because the reason I used to cut myself was because of my body,” said Billie. “To be quite honest with you, I only started wearing baggy clothes because of my body. If that had happened three years ago, when I was in the midst of my horrible body relationship – or dancing a ton, five years ago, I wasn’t really eating. I was, like, starving myself.”
“I thought that I would be the only one dealing with my hatred for my body,” Billie continued. “But I guess the internet also hates my body. So that’s great.”
To further the conversation, Billie took to her Instagram page and urged people to start “normalising real bodies”. She shared a video from beauty and lifestyle influencer Chizi Duru who said: “Not everybody has a wagon behind them, okay? Guts are normal. They’re normal. Boobs sag, especially after breastfeeding. Instagram isn’t real.”
So what should you do if you’re the one being body shamed? You may not have the mass following of Billie Eilish, but even when it’s just one person doing the shaming, it can desperately hurt. You know that saying, “sticks and stone may break my bones but words will never hurt me”? Yeah, it’s not true.
How to Handle Body Shaming
It’s all very well and good for someone to say “don’t let it get to you”, but unfortunately in reality, hearing or reading negative comments about yourself – about things you can’t really change is enough to wear anyone down. So if you are feeling sad, upset, ashamed or any other negative emotion after being body shamed, don’t beat yourself up about it – everything you’re feeling is rational. It’s how you deal with it that will make a difference to your psyche.
Despite being a terrible thing to do, people will always be prone to criticising the appearances of others. So whether it’s targeted, long-term body shaming, or a random throwaway comment (both of which are valid), here are some ways to deal with it mentally.
#1 Be Kind To Yourself
Sorry, I know that’s vague, broad and quite cliché. However, if you’re bearing the brunt of shaming comments, then you need to bring the kindness to yourself. This can look like positive affirmations whenever you begin feeling low, or buying yourself a little treat just because. Most of all, take care of yourself. Don’t let comments drive you to restrict, or change anything about yourself. Imagine you are looking after a friend and apply that behaviour to yourself.
#2 Do The Things That Make You Feel Good
It’s easy to hear or read a comment and begin to spiral, with only those words echoing through your mind. Take this opportunity to distract yourself and do something that makes you sparkle. This can be something like dancing, writing, reading or just binge-watching something. Sad thoughts will permeate the longer you let them, so shake them off as soon as possible.
#3 Be The Change
It’s horrible to take the brunt of a body shaming comment. Don’t feed into it by commenting on anyone else’s appearance. Compliment people in a different way, for example: “Your laugh is contagious” or “I can be myself around you”. Everyone needs to do better to build each other up without focusing on body image, and that change can start with you.
#4 Remind Yourself Of Your Worth
However much social media tries to tell you otherwise, we are all more than our bodies. More than our clothes size, our faces, our teeth. Sorry to slam another cliché down your throat, but it really is what’s inside that counts. All that you do makes up all that you are – and a spiteful comment does not diminish that.
#5 Seek Support
If you’re doing the above and it’s either not helpful and your mental health is getting worse, please consider asking for help. This can be a friend, parent or professional – you can see some resources here. I’m asking you to reach out before things reach a critical point, because once that damage is done, it can take a long time to resolve. Don’t let someone whose M.O is to hurt someone’s feelings change the course of your life.
Have you ever experienced body shaming? How did you deal with it?