Home » Body Shame: Overcome It With Self-Compassion and Find Freedom

Body Shame: Overcome It With Self-Compassion and Find Freedom

You are in a clothing store. You find some items to try and journey into the fitting room. The items they did have in your size rest on the hook. As you remove your clothing, you hope that the clothes will fit. Fingers crossed. You try them on.

Of course, they don’t. As usual, the clothing manufacturers haven’t made clothing to fit your body. Even when the size on the tag says it is your size. It feels like these anonymous clothing manufacturers are body shaming you.

And now you feel bad. You feel shame about your body size, about the way clothes don’t fit properly, and about the way they look on you. You tell yourself, “if only I was smaller, I could find clothes.” The self-criticism begins.

You get dressed and leave the fitting room, but you can’t shake those feelings of body shame for the rest of the day.

I feel you. As a woman in a larger body, I’ve been there. It can be hard to believe that the problem isn’t with your body. That is the problem with body shaming. It is hard to see that it isn’t our fault.

Clothing rack at store in the window

But it isn’t your fault. You don’t deserve body shaming. You deserve to reclaim your wellness journey.

Imagine going into a dressing room and trying on clothes that don’t fit. Imagine telling yourself, “these clothes were not made to fit my body” instead of “why don’t I fit in these clothes.” What would it feel like for that one moment to be just that? Just a moment. Not a moment that ruins your whole day.

This is 100% possible.

Do you want to know how to overcome body shaming and find body acceptance?

What Is Body Shaming

Body shaming is when a person is mocked or insulted about their physical appearance. People who are the victims of body shaming aren’t responsible for the acts.

Fat bodies are common targets for body shaming.

Not surprising, is it? It is something that most fat people have experienced. I know I have. I’m sure you have too.

So why is body shaming so common? It has to do with our society.

Fat people are targets of weight bias. People, wrongly, believe that people are fat because they are lazy, lack willpower, or lack healthy habits. Diet culture tells people that if fat people just tried hard enough, that they could be thin too.

Hardly! There are many reasons a person is fat. Environment, genetics, past traumas, and socioeconomic status all play a role in your weight.

But I bet you rarely hear about those reasons. So, people think it is acceptable to mock fat bodies because we haven’t tried hard enough. In mocking fat bodies, people feel like they are showing that they aren’t at the bottom of the social ladder.1 Sometimes, they believe that if they discriminate against fat bodies that maybe they will change.

The good news is that you probably aren’t experiencing body shaming 24/7.

The only problem? You may be self-body shaming.

Self-Body Shaming

Self-body shaming is when you have negative thoughts about your body.

Self-body shame means that you have internalized all of the negative things that you have heard about your body. You begin using this talk against yourself.

Here’s the kicker:

Woman exercising feeling body shaming

This can be extremely damaging. Think about it. You are with yourself 24/7. If you are body shaming yourself, you deal with it constantly.

The more you hear something, the more you are likely to believe it. So if you are telling yourself constantly that your body isn’t good enough, it will be hard for you to believe your body is fine just the way it is.

Do you know what else happens? You start to criticize yourself. Criticism is when you berate yourself for something you feel shame over.

What to know a secret? You criticize yourself as a survival mechanism.1

Imagine human society thousands of years ago. Humans lived in smaller groups and survival depending on fitting in. Being part of the group kept you alive. Self-criticism is a mechanism that helps you avoid behaviors or habits that can get you thrown out of the group. It helps you fit in.

However, criticizing yourself about your body size isn’t helpful. Your body size is not a behavior that is preventing you from fitting in. It is impossible to criticize yourself thin.

Ultimately, body shaming and self-criticism can affect your health in tremendous ways.

The Effects Of Body Shamimg On Your Health

It probably is no surprise to you that body shaming can do a number on you.

Think I’m exaggerating? Research shows that shame from others and ourselves has a significant impact on depression.1

Let’s dive right into the harm body shaming can cause.

Your Mental Health

Fortunately, our society is finally putting more emphasis on mental health. Protecting your mental health is something you need to work on consistently. The impacts of neglecting your mental health can be severe.

This means it is even more important to recognize how damaging body shame can be.

Did you know that experiencing body shame has a significant impact on depression? It doesn’t matter if it is from others or ourselves. Imagine the negative impact on your mental health if you are experiencing it 24/7. The effects of body shaming would be enormous.

Additionally, self-criticism is related to eating disorders, anxiety, and other disorders.

Pink Brains on pink background

Your Physical Health

You know how bad body-shaming is for your mental health.

Let’s take a look at what effects depression, anxiety, and eating disorders can have on your physical health.

The emotional symptoms of depression are well known. When you think of depression you think of the loss of interest in things a person loves or feelings of sadness or apathy.

But depression has severe physical symptoms, as well.

Did you know that chronic pain is commonly reported by those experiencing depression? 2

But that’s not all.

Yellow heart on White Wood back ground. Body Shaming is bad for your heart.

Anxiety can have a variety of symptoms that can have an impact on your life.3 You may experience heart-related symptoms like a racing heartbeat or heart palpitations. You can even have increased blood pressure as a result. Poor sleep, fatigue, and headaches are also commonly reported symptoms.

Finally, eating disorders can take a huge physical toll. It might surprise you to hear that the eating disorders anorexia nervosa actually has the highest mortality rate of any psychological disorder.4

Eating disorders can cause bone deterioration, gastrointestinal issues, and sleep issues. There are many more physical impacts of eating disorders on a person’s physical health.5

The simple truth is that body-shaming and self-criticism are related to some very damaging mental health issues. Being aware of how damaging these things can be is the first step in working to overcome body shaming.

Start With Yourself

As a person in a larger body, you’ve experienced body shaming. We all have. You know that society is responsible for a lot of the body shame that we feel.

Unfortunately, while things are beginning to change, it will be a long time before we can expect to stop body-shaming entirely.

So where’s that leave you?

Focus on the things that you can change. Start with yourself.

Earlier, I told you that a lot of body shaming comes from others. But some of it comes from you. And you are with yourself 24/7. That is a lot of time to body shame yourself.

Let’s start there.

Not sure how to stop body shaming yourself? Keep reading.

How Do You Deal With Body Shame And Start Loving Your Body Again

Make no mistake about it, there are some strategies that you can use to stop body shaming yourself.

How Self-Compassion Can Help

What is self-compassion? Self-compassion is treating yourself kindly and fairly even when things don’t work out the way you want.

When you are feeling shame or criticizing yourself, take a step back. Ask yourself how you would respond to a friend in the same situation.

White board in office "be kind" . Key to stop body shaming.

It is probably not a surprise to you that you are kinder to others than you are to yourself. Self-compassion is all about treating yourself better. It is about being kind to yourself.

And you know what?

Self-compassion works to protect you against body shaming. It can also help you create a better relationship with your body.

Being kind to yourself can help lessen the effect of the shame you feel from others.6 And since we know that shame can cause you to feel depression and anxiety, being kind to yourself can help those too.

Luckily, it can also protect you from some of the damage of body shaming yourself.7

How to Start Practicing Self-Compassion to Stop Body Shaming

Self-compassion can feel awkward at first. You may not be used to treating yourself with kindness and self-awareness. Here are some things to try.

Treat Yourself With Kindness

Talk to yourself like you would a friend. When you criticize yourself for those pants not fitting over your hips, imagine what you would tell a friend.

Chances are that you wouldn’t tell them that it was their fault for being “fat”.

You would reassure them that it was the way the pants were made. You would reassure them that their body is not “wrong.” Practice using that kindness on yourself.

Use Positive Affirmations

You may have heard about positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are used to redirect the voice inside you that says that you are too fat or that your body is wrong.

An example would be, “I love my body. I love my fat.” This reframes that critical voice that harms your emotional state.

Positive affirmations can be great tools to move you away from criticizing your body.

What If Positive Affirmations Don’t Work

But hang on a minute.

You may not like using positive affirmations. Positive affirmations may feel fake to you.

Loving your fat body may seem like it is unrealistic for you. And that is okay.

Instead of using positive affirmations, you can use releasing statements. Releasing statements are ways to give yourself grace and kindness.

You may say to yourself, “I can’t believe how fat I’ve gotten. This is terrible.” You would then use a releasing statement like, “It is okay that I have gained weight. It doesn’t mean that my body is wrong.”

Using these gives you the chance to recognize your feelings without judging yourself.

For instance, these concepts can be extended to body positivity, body acceptance, and body neutrality.

Use Body Mindset Movements

Body positivity. Body Acceptance. Body neutrality.

What do all these terms have in common? They are all terms to describe different tactics we can use to reduce self-body shaming and have a better relationship with our bodies.

You may be confused about what these words mean. That’s okay. Here is more information about body positivity vs body neutrality.

Body Positivity

Body positivity means different things to different people. However, it is generally used to talk about loving your body absolutely. Body positivity is about finding feelings of joy and enthusiasm for your body for all of its aspects, positive and negative.

And what’s the best part? When you feel positive about your body, you are less likely to body shame and criticize yourself.

Card from universe To Be Happy

Not sure what body-positive language looks like?

An example of a body-positive statement would be, “I love my cellulite.”

Like positive affirmations, body positivity can feel insincere to some people. Adoring your cellulite might not be something that you feel is authentic to you.

You may find that you either love or hate body positivity.

Body Acceptance

However, you do have another option. Body acceptance is the feeling that you have respect and find peace with your body. You don’t have to love it all the time. But you reach a place where you don’t hate it all the time.

Not sure what body-acceptance language looks like?

A body acceptance statement would be, “I wish I didn’t have cellulite but this is my body and it is okay.”

With body acceptance, you recognize that you don’t love your body all the time. But you accept it for all its negatives and positives.

Good news: This can help you stop body shaming yourself since you are more likely to accept your body as is.

Body Neutrality

Finally, you have body neutrality. Body neutrality is when you don’t have positive or negative feelings about your body. You know that all bodies are different. You know that no body is wrong. The goal with body neutrality is to not think about your body at all!

Woman looking out over water.

Think about it. Imagine if you never really thought about your body. It would be pretty hard to body shame yourself and criticize yourself about something you never think about.

With body neutrality, you wouldn’t necessarily have thoughts about your cellulite. You know it exists. You recognize that cellulite is part of many people’s bodies.

Viewing your body as a neutral tool for your life can be liberating if you don’t feel that body positivity or body acceptance feels authentic to you.

Overall, the point is to do whatever feels authentic to you. Body positivity, body acceptance, and body neutrality can all be useful tools to help you find healthier ways to relate to your body.

Do you know what’s great about this? It can help you stop body shaming yourself.

You Can Overcome Body Shaming and Practice Self-Compassion

So it all adds up to this. You can discover how to stop body shaming yourself. You can even discover how to deal with body shame.

Self-compassion and the body movement of your choice are tools you can use on your journey to overcome body shaming.

Using these strategies you can stop the cycle of body shame and self-criticism that you are experiencing. You can stop hating your body. You can start feeling better. You can protect your mental health and your physical health using these tips:

  • Treat yourself with kindness.
  • Use positive affirmations.
  • Practice body mindset changing movements.

Are you ready to start feeling freedom from body shaming? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Air plane spelling out freedom

References:

  1. Carter A, Gilbert P, Kirby JN. Compassion‐focused therapy for body weight shame: A mixed methods pilot trial. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy. 2020;28(1):93-108. doi:10.1002/cpp.2488
  2. Holmes A, Christelis N, Arnold C. Depression and chronic pain. Medical Journal of Australia. 2013;199(S6). doi:10.5694/mja12.10589
  3. Anxiety disorders. NAMI. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders. Accessed September 30, 2021.
  4. Anorexia nervosa – highest mortality rate of any mental disorder: Why? Eating Disorder Hope. https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/anorexia/anorexia-death-rate. Published December 9, 2020. Accessed September 30, 2021.
  5. Physical signs and symptoms of an eating disorder. National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/toolkit/parent-toolkit/physical-signs. Published August 22, 2019. Accessed September 30, 2021.
  6. Callow TJ, Moffitt RL, Neumann DL. External shame and its association with depression and anxiety: The moderating role of self-compassion. Australian Psychologist. 2021;56(1):70-80. doi:10.1080/00050067.2021.1890984
  7. Braun TD, Quinn DM, Stone A, et al. Weight bias, shame, and Self‐Compassion: Risk/protective mechanisms of depression and anxiety IN PREBARIATIC surgery patients. Obesity. 2020;28(10):1974-1983. doi:10.1002/oby.22920

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