WHERE DO BODY IMAGE PROBLEMS COME FROM?

In my last blog post, I discussed how to improve body image problems. As an eating disorder therapist and anxiety therapist in Plano, TX, I talk about this topic every day with clients. It may seem just a rite of passage for kids. Yet, negative body image is linked to poor self-esteem, school problems, social anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

In this post, I discuss where negative body image comes from. This is important because we aren't born hating our bodies! We learn this from a very young age. Unfortunately, it's so subtle that we don't notice it. It's accepted as a normal part of growing up so we don't question it. We even celebrate it, believing that it's ok to be unhappy with our bodies because this keeps us "in control" and "healthy." 

But as many experts have said, hating your body has the potential to destroy your life.

WHAT IS BODY SHAME?

In my last blog post, I discussed how to improve body image problems. I am an eating disorder and anxiety therapist in Plano, TX. I talk about this topic every day with clients. It may seem just a rite of passage for kids. But, negative body image can lead to low self-esteem, school problems and social anxiety. It also leads to depression and eating disorders.

In this post, I discuss where negative body image comes from. This is important because we aren't born hating our bodies! We learn this from a very young age. Unfortunately, it's so subtle that we don't notice it. It's accepted as a normal part of growing up so we don't question it. We even celebrate it. We believe it's ok to be unhappy with our bodies. We think this keeps us "in control" and "healthy."

But as many experts have said, hating your body has the potential to destroy your life.

HOW DOES BODY SHAME DEVELOP?

The factors that contribute to body shame vary from person to person. But, several common influences play a big role in its development.


BODY IMAGE PROBLEMS IN CHILDHOOD

Childhood experiences play a big role. They shape a person's relationship with their body. Here are some key ways that childhood affects the development of body shame:

DOCTOR VISITS AND BODY SHAME 

During routine doctor visits, children may feel body shame. This can happen when there is too much focus on height and weight, and not enough on other key parts of the child's life or health. Healthcare providers' comments about ideal weight or weight changes can make kids feel self-conscious about their bodies. This is particularly true if the kid is at risk of other mental health problems, especially eating disorders. 

PEERS AND BODY SHAME

It's no secret that childhood is full of teasing. It's common for teasing to target appearance and body size. This adds to feelings of shame and insecurity. People may make direct remarks about being "too fat" or "too thin." Or, they may make comparisons to beauty standards. These interactions can greatly affect a child's body image. For a sensitive kid, or one with mental health issues in their family history, this can be devastating. 

SPORTS AND BODY SHAME

Coaches in sports or physical activities may focus too much on weight. They link performance to body size or shape. This can pressure children to fit certain body ideals. This can lead to shame if they see themselves as falling short. One study showed that kids often quit sports due to poor body image. 

Being active in sports and fitness often involves comments about weight, body size, or looks. Coaches in sports and fitness often focus too much on body weight and size. They link it to performance. This can pressure children to fit certain body ideals. This can lead to shame if they see themselves as falling short. One study showed that kids often quit sports due to poor body image. Sports should be inclusive of all body shapes and sizes, as they have many mental and physical health benefits.

Another study found that 42% of female teen athletes said that coaches or teammates body-shamed them. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9814386/ 1 in 3 male adolescent athletes reported similar experiences. Coaches, parents, and sports organizations should promote good body image among young athletes. They should create an environment of acceptance and support. It should not be one of criticism and judgment.

https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2023-10-20/teens-are-quitting-sports-as-social-media-ups-body-image-concerns

PARENTS IMPACT ON BODY SHAME

Parents' concerns about their children's weight and health can also influence body image. While well-intentioned, comments or behaviors related to weight management may inadvertently contribute to feelings of shame or self-doubt.

SOCIAL MEDIA AND BODY IMAGE

Media Representation: Heavier children are often portrayed negatively in the media, with stereotypes depicting them as the butt of jokes or always eating. These portrayals reinforce harmful stereotypes and contribute to the stigmatization of larger bodies, fostering feelings of shame and inadequacy in children who do not fit societal beauty norms.

TRAUMA/NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES

Traumatic events in childhood, such as physical or sexual abuse, can profoundly impact one's relationship with their body and sense of self-worth. Survivors of trauma may  come to have feelings of shame associated with their bodies as a result of the abuse, leading to profound feelings of unworthiness or disgust.

Overall, these childhood influences can significantly impact a child's body image and contribute to the development of body shame. It's essential to recognize and address these influences to promote positive self-esteem and self-acceptance from a young age. Parents, educators, healthcare providers, and peers all play crucial roles in creating supportive environments that encourage body positivity and self-confidence in children. See my blog post for more ideas about how to improve body image. 

BODY IMAGE PROBLEMS IN ADULTHOOD

As individuals transition into adulthood, societal pressures and experiences continue to shape their perceptions of their bodies. Here are some key ways in which adulthood influences contribute to the perpetuation of body shame:

FAMILY/FRIENDS  


Adults may encounter comments or judgments from others regarding their appearance, such as remarks like "she really let herself go" or unsolicited opinions about weight gain or changes in physical appearance. These comments can contribute to feelings of shame and self-consciousness about one's body.


MEDICAL STIGMATIZATION


In medical settings, individuals may experience stigmatization related to their weight, with doctors linking almost any health complaint to weight. This narrow focus on weight as the primary determinant of health can lead to feelings of shame and frustration, particularly for individuals who are struggling with chronic health conditions.


MEDIA/CULTURAL INFLUENCES ON BODY IMAGE


The media often perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards and anti-aging messages, promoting the idea that youthfulness and thinness are synonymous with beauty and worth. Advertisements, television shows, and magazines frequently feature celebrities and models who epitomize these standards, creating pressure for individuals to conform to unrealistic ideals.


Celebrities and public figures are often held up as examples of beauty and success, contributing to the perpetuation of unrealistic images and standards. The constant scrutiny of celebrities' bodies in the media can reinforce the idea that achieving a certain body type is essential for validation and acceptance.


TRAUMA/NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES

Overall, these adulthood influences contribute to the perpetuation of body shame and dissatisfaction with one's appearance. It's essential to recognize and challenge these societal messages to promote body acceptance and self-love. By advocating for body diversity and challenging unrealistic beauty standards, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all individuals, regardless of their size or shape.

HOW CAN YOU EXPLORE BODY SHAME?

Use a body image timeline

CALL TO ACTION

Wondering if you need to explore your body image issues?