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Body Shaming and its effects on mental health

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Falak Zehra Mohsin |

Body shaming is a widespread practice in our society – we see it in the media where celebrities are often ridiculed about their body shape, on social media through trolling and we even experience it in social gatherings where people comment on our weight changes.

Body shaming is simply defined as ‘the action or practice of humiliating someone by making mocking or critical comments about their body shape or size.’ Almost every female (and many males as well) has experienced body shaming irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, caste, or race.

Purging – also a type of anorexia relates to an eating disorder where an individual purges after eating. This too is related to the desire to lose weight to fit into the mold of an ideal body image.

One is too thin, too fat, too flat, too curvy, but never perfect. The idea of perfection, in fact, is a notion placed on females by society. Individuals often take extreme steps to achieve what they believe is a perfect body. The harmful effects of body shaming and the struggle to attain this perfection get overlooked in the process.

Body shaming leads to the formation of unrealistic body ideals and research has shown that there is a relationship between unrealistic body ideals and low self-esteem, eating disorders, depression, stress, and anxiety issues in males and females. For instance, social anxiety (and even fear) can result from a desire to attain the unreal expectation of an ideal body image.

Read more: Exercise can have a positive effect on mental health

The fear of rejection due to weight and physical attributes can cause individuals to isolate themselves. Moreover, females who have experienced relentless body shaming often feel ashamed of their natural bodily functions such as sweating, menstruating, eating and such which become factors they work hard to keep hidden.

Thus, they end up denying themselves quality healthcare, leading to sickness and disease. Many different types of mental health issues can arise due to incessant body shaming.

The first and foremost issue related to body image issues and body shaming are eating disorders. Anorexia or Anorexia Nervosa is a psychological issue or ‘emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat.’ Those who experience anorexia generally have very low body weight relative to their height and body type.

The awareness regarding the negative effects of body shaming is increasing and we can observe a move towards body positivity. Body positivity is the acceptance, appreciation and even celebration of all body types.

The issue relates to self-starvation and a lack of appetite along with a fixation with a thin figure and abnormal eating patterns. It is a serious issue that ought to be dealt with as soon as possible and with a lot of delicacies. A piece of advice to those who are currently experiencing this or if someone around you is, consult a psychologist without delay!

Purging – also a type of anorexia relates to an eating disorder where an individual purges after eating. This too is related to the desire to lose weight to fit into the mold of an ideal body image. The act of purging by vomiting or abusing laxatives reduces or removes the guilt of having eaten restricted, fatty foods.

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Although to some individuals it appears to be a guilt-free method of eating whatever one wants without the repercussion of weight gain – that is not true. Repercussions of purging can be severe for not just one’s physical health but can lead to further feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. Again, if you see yourself engaging in such behavior, please consult a psychologist.

Binge-eating is another type of eating disorder that research has linked to body shaming. It involves consuming large quantities of food in a short period of time. Individuals who have often been body shamed for being too thin or flat tend to engage in binge-eating to quickly gain weight. Those who binge-eat often struggle with emotions of guilt and disgust and can also experience anxiety and depression.

The media was particularly relevant in increasing body shaming worldwide and providing unrealistic body images to men and women.

The negative feelings and emotions of disgust, guilt, and depression and so on tend to accompany anorexia nervosa, purging, and binge-eating. This can further lead to avoidance of food or the use of food – i.e. overeating to cope with the negativity; thus creating a vicious cycle which is extremely difficult to break. In fact, seeking professional help under such circumstances is not a bad idea and nothing to feel ashamed about. It takes great strength to ask for help.

There are some steps one can take for themselves such as identifying those people around them who are body positive and connect with them. It can help reduce the intensity of the felt body shaming. One should engage in self-love and self-expression, resulting in an increase in confidence and self-esteem.

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Additionally, take good care of your body and focus on yourself. One should try not to force themselves into the ideal body image; rather the one should work towards being healthy – drink enough water, eat well, exercise, and so on. Also, most importantly learn not to compare yourself with anyone else.

Please note that though these steps are helpful, however, in extreme cases there is always a need to seek professional help.

The awareness regarding the negative effects of body shaming is increasing and we can observe a move towards body positivity. Body positivity is the acceptance, appreciation and even celebration of all body types. It is the belief that all individuals should have a positive body image and should accept and be comfortable with their own body and that of others as well as be accepting any changes that may occur due to age, time, and nature.

Read more: Pakistan’s health care system in a crisis

Here the latest #MeriAwaz campaign initiated by Dalda Foods deserves a special mention. Their TVC relates to providing young girls with a positive image and not body shaming them. The media was particularly relevant in increasing body shaming worldwide and providing unrealistic body images to men and women. Now, let’s hope that maybe the media can work towards promoting a healthy body image and body positivity.

Falak Zehra Mohsin is Founder & Counselor at Holistic Minds (facebook page:@H0listicMinds), Visiting Faculty at IBA (Karachi). Twitter: @Falak_Z_M. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 


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