Dealing with body shaming

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Have you ever been criticised for the way you look?

fat woman body shaming

Negative body image is a serious problem that can have damaging effects on a woman’s self-esteem. Add to this body shaming from others, and you might just not cope.

By Patience Gumbo-Chimbetete

We’ve all done it or experienced it. But whether it is with good intentions or purely malicious, body shaming is something we need to do away with. Lifestyle and wellness expert Lisa Raleigh describes body shaming as the negative and inappropriate commenting on someone’s weight, size or appearance. She says this is hugely aggravated by the media. But, whether done earnestly or in a teasing way, it still inflicts harm.

Self-image vs change

American actress and author Gabourey Sidibe has struggled for years with both her weight and embracing body positivity. In a speech at the Ms. Foundation Gloria Awards Gala in 2014, Gabourey said while growing up, both her parents called her fat. She said her mother, who was also overweight as a child, understood what she was going through. But she still berated the actress because “she was so afraid of what she knew was to come for me”. Though Gabourey’s mother thought she was “preparing” her for the harsh realities of society, that made her “feel unsafe, even at home!” And instead of speaking out, she dealt with her feelings by eating more, and gaining even more weight.

“People are unique in how they handle criticism, judgement or comments about how they look. And, negative words can have destructive, regressive effects on those sensitive to them,” she said.

So, how can people inspire change while promoting positive body image?

Mind your words

In a world of technology where it has become easy to share photos and scrutinise them, people have taken advantage of this to troll others. “Humans are vulnerable, and often desperate to fit in; words take hold and grow roots,” says Lisa. So, we need to be careful what we say about how others look – a little empathy would do our society a world of good. “Let’s remember that we are meant to be different. We come in all shapes and there is no universal strategy for health, fitness or happiness. The same strategies just don’t deliver the same results for everyone,” she adds.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Society needs to stop categorising and judging women based on their bodies, but rather focus on their abilities and talents. We should also encourage women to be healthy and happy in their skin. “It is important to differentiate between health and appearance because a lot of body shaming has to do with criticising someone about the latter. But it matters less how the body looks than what it can do,” says Lisa. She advises people to take a positive supportive approach instead of being discriminatory and judgmental.

Dealing with body shaming

Though more prevalent in our society now, gone are the days when women were expected to take body shaming lying down. But learning how to react “appropriately“ is a process. We offer some tips:

Effort and self-love. According to Lisa, these are key. She says as long as you are working to be healthy, you will get results. And, these results should be for you.

Don’t take it personally. Lisa encourages women not to take criticism to heart. Though this is hard, being in control enough to stay calm when harsh words are being said goes a long way towards not letting them rock your confidence. “You choose whether or not to internalise those comments; it’s not out of your control. Work at being secure and confident enough in your self-perception to make kind and rational opinions of yourself that cannot be swayed by others.”

Stand up for yourself. This is a powerful act of self-love. “There is never an argument for body shaming because we are designed to be different. That means there is no one-size-fits-all opinion of what is good or positively received,” Lisa says.