How to handle body shaming

What exactly is body shaming and how can we protect ourselves against it?

A woman in a yellow dress stands on the street looking up

Body shaming is one of those cruel and unnecessary things we could really do without. It’s a form of bullying, where people humiliate others by making critical comments about the way they look. But body shaming isn’t just humiliating. It can seriously affect your self-esteem and has even been known to lead to depression and eating disorders. No one deserves to be body shamed. So if you’ve been made to feel crappy about your body by other people’s comments, here’s your P.O.A.

How to spot body shaming

Some forms of body shaming are glaringly obvious. For example, if someone shouts something lovely like “you fat bitch” across the street, you can guarantee you’ve been body shamed. People are sadly body shamed for all sorts of reasons, including their size, height, the colour of their skin, their gender identity or their disability. But other body shaming isn’t so obvious. It can be subtle and it might be directed at you from the people you love. This makes it trickier to spot, despite it making you feel uncomfortable. Some examples of body shaming include:

  • Offhand comments which aren’t obviously cruel, but which are still hurtful, such as, “Blimey, you’re tall for a girl,” or “You’re kind of skinny for a guy.”
  • ‘Friendly’ jibes from your family. e.g., “Should you really be eating that piece of cake?” Or, “You’ll never get a girlfriend looking like that.”
  • Comments from your partner about the way you look naked. Mean comments about the size of someone’s breasts, penis or labia are all a form of body shaming.
  • Social media has taken body shaming to a new level. You may have noticed celebrities getting stick for having cellulite, muffin tops, ‘moobs,’ or any of those other normal things that make us human.

How can I respond to body shaming?  

There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to responding to body shaming. It depends on the type of body shaming you’ve experienced and how confident you feel in challenging what’s been said. Here are some things to remember:  

  • It doesn’t have to be your responsibility to educate people. If you don’t have the energy or if you’re not in the right space to respond in a way which really protects yourself, don’t feel you have to respond. If body shaming occurs online, just block those people.
  • If someone body shames you in real life, it’s fine to just leave that situation and get yourself to a safe space. You don’t have to give an explanation.
  • If you do have time and inclination to challenge body shaming, you can try saying something along the lines of “I try not to talk negatively about bodies,” or, “I find it really triggering when people say negative things about bodies,” or, “what a weird world we live in where people feel they can judge each other’s bodies.”

Body shaming is getting me down

It’s all good and well saying, “don’t let it get to you,” but in reality, hearing or reading these comments on a regular basis would wear anyone down. So if you’re feeling crappy , or angry, or downright depressed because of body shaming, know that those are all normal responses. A few things you can do to protect yourself include:

  • Talk to someone you trust about how body shaming makes you feel. Keeping these emotions inside can make things worse.
  • Practice being kind towards your body. The kinder you are towards yourself, the more resilient you’ll be when you experience body shaming. Read our article on body kindness.  
  • Curate your social media. If there’s anyone who doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, unfollow them, even if they’re your close friends. Instead follow positive accounts and people who are putting out diverse, uplifting messages about body acceptance. Seek out the people who contradict our body shaming culture and support them – like their photos, comment, get in touch with them, create a community. Read our article on body image and social media.

To find out more about our Body & Soul Club, head here.

Next Steps

  • The Self-Esteem Team (SET) run workshops in schools across the UK to help tackle young people's issues with body image, self-worth and mental health.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.

By Olivia Capadose

Updated on 17-May-2019