What Is Body Shaming and How to Stop It

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Body shaming is not a new concept—whether it's a magazine cover analyzing a celebrity's weight change or a relative making an unsolicited comment around the dinner table, the act of using bodies as a talking point is something many of us have experienced. Thankfully, in recent years, more attention has been brought to the damaging effects of negative thoughts and words surrounding individuals' bodies.

Body shaming can significantly impact your self-esteem, mood, and relationships. Shifting the focus and becoming more positive in how you relate to your body and others' appearances can have a major impact on your own quality of life.

What Is Body Shaming?

Body shaming involves criticizing your body or others' bodies, out loud or in your thoughts. Often, body shaming is not meant to be directly hurtful, but it is. Stating unwanted and unasked-for negative opinions and comments about a person's body, even if you don't necessarily intend to hurt the person, is still body shaming.

Types of Body Shaming

  • Fat shaming: "You shouldn't wear that outfit until you lose weight."
  • Skinny shaming: "She really needs to eat a cheeseburger."
  • Attractiveness shaming: "What is a girl like her doing with a guy who looks like that?"
  • Body hair shaming: "Gross, underarm hair on women is such a turn-off."
  • Food shaming: "Are you sure you want dessert? You could stand to go without."
  • Gender shaming: "He's a man, he needs to bulk up more."

How Body Shaming Affects You

Body shaming can affect individuals in a variety of ways. Research shows that body shaming can result in mental health concerns such as depression, body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, anxiety, increased risk of suicidal thoughts, and unhealthy behaviors like eating disorders, overexercising, and exercise avoidance.

Furthermore, when people use body shaming of themselves or others to try and encourage weight loss, it more often backfires, leading to weight gain, unnecessary weight loss, and unhealthy habits. Experts and studies say that experiencing weight bias leads to physiological and behavioral changes linked to poor metabolic health and weight gain. Stress from these negative experiences may have the ability to initiate stress hormones like cortisol and reduce self-control, increasing the risk of binge eating.

With so much focus on physical appearance, other aspects of your life may also suffer. You may hold back from social events, exercise, dating, sex, and other elements of a well-rounded life. Even more importantly, the time spent obsessing over your body means less time for other pursuits, including education, self-improvement, charity work, and fulfilling hobbies.

How to Stop Body Shaming and Be More Body-Inclusive

Body shaming can quickly become a habit, especially when those around you engage in the behavior as well. Like any bad habit, stopping may be challenging but worth it. One significant first step is removing social media that makes you feel physically unworthy.

Research has tied body shaming and poor body image with social media more than any other contributing factor. The more time spent on social media, the worse body shaming and dissatisfaction are likely to be.

Another factor can be disapproving comments from relatives, including parents. Research shows that being raised with disparaging remarks about your physical appearance impacts how you think about your body and has the potential to lead to body shaming and disordered eating patterns. Speaking out and setting clear boundaries around what you will and will not tolerate from others close to you can help end this cycle.

Ultimately, if you are tempted to make a comment about someone else's body, don't. Even praising someone for weight loss or telling someone they look much better wearing a specific type of clothing or makeup can backfire.

These comments insinuate that the person's value has increased due to physical changes, even if you don't know their root cause. For instance, illness can lead to weight loss that wasn't desired or attempted. And suggesting someone looks better a particular way means they look less ideal another way. Remove focus on the physical and place it on accomplishments with more meaning and permanence.

A Word From Verywell

Body shaming is not always so obvious. Small, seemingly harmless comments can make a big impact on a person's self-esteem. It's best to avoid commenting on people's physical appearance in general, and especially in relation to things like weight, attractiveness, gender conformity, and what a person chooses to wear or not.

If you struggle with body image, body shaming, or related issues and feel like you cannot change things, reach out to a therapist who can help you. Discuss how you feel with trusted friends and family members, and remember to set clear boundaries with yourself and others.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What do you say to someone who is body shaming?

    If you hear someone body shaming, it may be best to remind them of the harmful effects, such as perpetuating unrealistic expectations and focusing on trivial physical appearance instead of more important aspects of a person. You can try saying something like "I really don't agree with body shaming. Let's not get caught up in appearances, there's more to life than how you look."

  • Why is body shaming so common?

    Society is highly focused on physical appearance and attributing too much value to how someone looks. If you feel bad about your looks, you are more likely to make purchases that will "fix" it, including weight loss, beauty, and anti-aging products. This is why marketing efforts focus so much on "flaws" that are actually perfectly normal, including weight, cellulite, acne, wrinkles, hair loss, and more. These messages become pervasive and can influence how you think and feel about yourself and others.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  5. Teeters, Taryn Bland, "Why a negative body image? A study on gender, social media, and mass media" (2018). Masters Theses. 3444. Eastern Illinois University.

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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.

Edited by
Lily Moe
Lily Moe for Verywell Fit

Lily Moe is a former fitness coach and current Editor for Verywell Fit. A wellness enthusiast, she can often be found in a hot yoga studio, trying a new recipe, or going for a long run in Central Park.

Learn about our editorial process