Changing the Conversation: Body Shaming

Body shaming is a growing epidemic, rising to a fevered pitch in recent years alongside social media. Photos and advertisements of perfectly shaped and airbrushed bodies plaster the cities we live in, setting an unrealistic stigma for perfection. Even social media can play a role as people choose to share the best shots online, utilizing filters and editing apps to touch up their “reality.”

Within our current culture, there is an overwhelmingly negative attitude when it comes to individuals who live in larger bodies.  Weight stigma and discrimination is a serious problem in a wide variety of contexts including work, school and care settings.

Katie Loth, Ph.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, sees one major factor leading to the  weight bias in our society.

“We live in a culture placing enormous value on thinness and physical beauty. Pop culture perpetuates this perceived importance by limiting the images we see to only those including individuals who match society’s high, often unattainable, expectations for physical appearance,” said Loth. “We need to demand the images we view are respectful and honest portrayals of real people, representing the full range of diversity within our culture.”

Research continually shows children and adults who experience body shaming are vulnerable to many long-lasting psychological and physical health consequences, including:

  • Higher rates of depression and anxiety,
  • Low self-esteem and low body satisfaction,
  • Increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors,
  • Higher risk for disordered eating behaviors,
  • More likely to avoid healthy behaviors such as physical activity.

According to Loth, it is important for parents, coaches and health professionals to stray away from having weight-focused conversations. Instead, she encourages conversations about setting behavioral goals, including encouraging healthy eating and regular physical activity. These conversations are more likely to result in positive long-term behavior change.

“We need to take a stand for our bodies,” concludes Loth. “We need to shift the public conversation away from the number on the scale and focus more on a much broader view of overall health.”