I was eleven years old and my cousin was the ripe old age of eight years old when she told me that she was going on a diet because she was fat. (She wasn’t a bit overweight, but that’s beside the point.) She didn’t come to the conclusion that she needed to diet all on her own, nor does any other woman I know. She heard the message about body shame that is echoed in our culture. As women today, we are bombarded with explicit and implicit messages about our bodies and beauty that often sound like the following:
Thin is beautiful, and thin is at least ten pounds less than you weigh right now.
Acceptance comes through your physical appearance, so keep it up at all costs.
It’s not feminine to enjoy food, exude self-confidence, or ignore the current fashions.
You’ll only be attractive to men if you conform to the cultural standard of beauty.
Your mom skimps on food, complains about her appearance, and obsessively works out. This is your destiny, too, as her daughter.
We live in a culture where body shaming is on the rise. In “Body Shaming: What It Is & Why We Do It?” eating-disorder clinician Erika Vargas describes three ways body shaming manifests itself: “1) Criticizing your own appearance, through a judgment or comparison to another person; 2) Criticizing another’s appearance in front of them; and 3) Criticizing another’s appearance without their knowledge.” Their summary provides a helpful definition of body shame: “No matter how this manifests, it often leads to comparison and shame, and perpetuates the idea that people should be judged mainly for their physical features.”1