Body Image: Why Body-Shaming affects us - Counselors Body Image: Why Body-Shaming affects us - Counselors

Body Image: Why Body-Shaming affects us

What exactly is body image? 

Put in simpler terms, body image is the perception you have of yourself and how you feel about the way you look:

· How we feel about our body

· How we believe others perceive our appearance

· How we feel about our height, weight, and shape

To have a healthy body image you do not need to have a symmetrical face, a perfect nose, or a body. It is not about thinking that you are perfect. It is simply about being comfortable with the body you have and accepting yourself as you are.

Importantly, having a positive body image rests on our ability to distinguish between our values and our appearance. We get into dangerous territory when we start to confuse our body image with our self-worth.

Where Critical Thoughts About Our Bodies Come From

Body Shaming

Society certainly sends us body-shaming messages about how we are supposed to look. We live in a culture in which peers and the media transmit the thin ideal in a way that negatively influences the development of body image and self-esteem. These cultural messages can injure our self-esteem, but it’s what we do with these messages in our minds that creates a cycle of self-shaming thoughts or even behaviors. It’s also this very pattern of thinking that we can challenge by taking on our critical inner voice.

In addition to societal messages, negative early familial experiences greatly shape our self-perception In fact, it’s these early events that originally form our critical inner voice. Early experiences that we never imagined would have impacted our way of seeing ourselves remain the sources of inaccurate self-criticism throughout our lives. People who face issues of low self-esteem can trace them to feelings of humiliation, rejection, or disappointment they suffered in childhood. When young children search for the reasons and explanations for these feelings, they often look within themselves rather than finding fault with an adult on whom they are dependent. One of the easiest places for them to lay the blame is on their physical appearance.”

Children from a sense of self not only based on ways they were viewed or treated but on ways parents or other influential figures viewed themselves. Many parents aren’t aware of how their low self-esteem can be passed on to their kids. They don’t even think their child is paying attention when they look in the mirror and say “Ugh I look so fat/ ugly/ old/ saggy/ puny/out of shape.” Kids often internalize these negative messages of body shaming, which passes this low self-esteem from generation to generation.

How the Critical Inner Voice Operates

It’s important to recognize how our critical inner voice works to catch on to when it’s sneaking into our thoughts and causing self-esteem to plummet by body shaming ourselves. The critical inner voice tends to be triggered at certain times or based on certain events. If someone looks away when we make eye contact, it may say, “You see? You’re not attractive. He/ She won’t even look at you.” The voice may even pop up after we’ve received recognition or gotten closer to a goal. After being asked on a date at the beach, for example, we may go to bed with our heads full of thoughts like, “You can’t let him/her see you in a bathing suit. You’ll humiliate yourself.” After a particularly hard workout, the voice may chime in, “All this work, and you still don’t look any better. You’ll never have the body you want.”

It’s important to get a hold of when your voice is creeping in and what it’s telling you. Think about the specific messages. What emotions do they stir up? Are they body shaming you? Do they remind you of any event or person from your past? Where might they come from originally?

Learn more about body image issues at:

How to Challenge Your Conquer Your Inner Critic

 As we come to know what our body shaming “I hate my body” voices specifically sound like and start making connections about where they may come from, we can take some important steps to challenge this destructive, internal enemy. 

One of the most helpful exercises they created involves writing down our specific “voices” as “you” statements. This changes the perspective of the voice from being something we believe to be true about ourselves (i.e. “I have such a thick waist.”) to something someone else is saying to us (i.e. “You have such a thick waist.”) This helps us see the critical inner voice as an external enemy as opposed to our real point of view. It also can help us make connections about where this voice may originally have come from. Maybe it sounds like something our mother said about herself. Maybe it’s something we were critical of in our father that we now worry is true of us.

After writing down our voices in the second person, we should write a compassionate, realistic response based on our real, kinder point of view. We should aim to reply to these statements the way we would to a friend saying these things about themselves, except making sure to respond using the first person (“I” statements). For example, we may write “There’s nothing wrong with my waist. I take care of my body and am shapely and attractive.”

Another important step is to NOT indulge in the actions our voices press us to take that are in sync with its attacks. If it tells us, “Don’t go to the party. You look terrible,” we should make ourselves go and do our best to tune out our inner critic when we do. If it shouts at us, “Don’t bother exercising. You’ll never get the results you want,” then we should take the action, as it will make us feel stronger and more confident.

Remember, the critical inner voice is tricky. It can sound self-soothing, luring us into self-limiting, indulgent, or harmful behavior, then punishing us for giving in. For example, it may say, “Have that second piece of cake. You’ve eaten so healthily all week.” Or it will tell us, “You’ve had a hard day. Just rest on the couch. You don’t have to go outside and be active.” Then, as soon as we’ve listened to its seductive advice, it shouts at us, “I can’t believe you messed up again. What a fat loser! You’re so lazy. You just sit around and don’t do anything!” The critical inner voice is great at getting us to engage in behaviors that further feed into our voices, creating a vicious cycle.

As we stand up to these critical thoughts, we can expect a rebuttal. At first, the thoughts may get stronger or come up more often, but if we persevere and refuse to believe or indulge in them, they will eventually fade into the background, and we will become much stronger and more sure of ourselves.

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