A basic human need is acceptance by others. Stigma is defined as an “awareness of social disapproval, discrediting or devaluation, based on an attribute or physical mark.” In this case, the size of a person’s body. This kind of stigma is called body-shaming. Hidradenitis suppurativa, weight and stigma are very much linked. We are going to talk about this and body-shaming.
Body- shaming has consequences for everyone. For people in bigger bodies, it is most harmful, it’s an attack on the most personal part of a person. But, those who shame make the argument that they are promoting health. They argue it’s not stigma, its inspiration or motivation. But research says that this is simply not true.
Stigma is a social disease, and the cure is education. In this post, we will look at what happens when we are body- shamed. And why it is anything but healthy. We will also talk about some ways to fight back.
Weight Stigma is Unhealthy
Weight stigma can take many forms. It can look like a denial of healthcare until you lose weight. Or having labels like lazy attached to you because of your size. Body-shaming has an association with a range of mental disorders, including eating disorders. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate than any other mental illness.
A 2015 study found that weight discrimination increased the risk of death by 60% in middle and retirement-age people. A 2016 paper studied women with eating disorders and a BMI of 30+. The aim was to test a programme for reducing disordered eating. It found that those who had high levels of internalised stigma had no reduction in ED behaviour. Whereas those with low or neutral internalised stigma did improve. There is nothing healthy about these effects.
Body-shaming is Not Inspirational
According to Social Comparison theory, a person values themselves by comparing to others. And then evaluating how they measure up. There are three types of social comparison.
- Lateral Social Comparison. When we compare ourselves to someone, we see as like us.
- Downward Social Comparison. When we compare ourselves to some on whom we see as below us.
- Upward Social Comparison. When we compare ourselves to someone above us.
Can you see how dangerous those thought processes can be in our social media-driven world? Concerning body-shaming, downward and upward social comparison is most relevant. If we see somebody in a bigger body as below us, we are drawing from that stigma. We have made a judgment about them irrespective of what kind of person they are.
Upward social comparison, means we look up for comparison, for example, to influencers. But it isn’t always inspirational, a lot of the time it just makes us feel bad about ourselves.
Using shame and guilt as a motivational tool is common but not useful. And it is more likely to result in low self-esteem and feeling of being unworthy or inadequate. If you love someone, don’t shame them, stigma is not inspirational, its unhealthy.
Working Together to End Shame
Regardless of the number on the scale, here are three things everyone can do to end body-shaming.
- See it, call it out
If you see or hear body- shaming, say something. Rather than laughing and then checking yourself in the mirror, say it isn’t funny or any of our business. Stigma thrives on the idea of social acceptability, if you accept it, you spread it. This is a tough one, you could be calling out a friend, but a person’s body should be neutral ground. Not a site of ridicule or exclusion.
- Advocate for yourself
Stigma can lead to discrimination. If you are experiencing discrimination in health care, work or being bullied, take a stand. That doesn’t mean confrontation, it might mean reporting it. It requires you knowing that you deserve respect and dignity no matter what. But you know that already, right?
- Examine your own Bias
What do you think about people with bigger bodies? Sometimes we believe that if a problem is not a problem for us, it’s not a problem at all. Maybe you laugh at weight jokes, or perhaps you make them. You could be hurting yourself because you are “scared of getting fat.” Weight stigma and body shaming affect everyone to a lesser or greater degree.
Movements like body positivity are empowering people to rethink body shape and stigma. This is how we live genuinely healthy lives. If you want somewhere to start, we have a book review here that can help you out
Getting Home Safe
Your body is your home, it should be safe. Nobody has the right to dictate to anyone what their body should look like. That includes companies, influencers and loved ones. It is not healthy, and it is not what’s best for us. If you decide to change your body shape, it should be your choice and not because you feel ashamed.
Your body is as equal as anyone else. You don’t deserve to have your medical care or other services withheld because of your size. If you need help, you should have it. I know it is hard but being your own advocate is the best way to get what you need. And if you of scared of your body changing, don’t be. The problem is not you but the messages you have been hearing your whole life. It is, however, your responsibility to challenge them.
Making bodies safe is everyone’s business, regardless of any number on a scale.
About the Author
Shannon Sweeney is a psychology and sociology student from Ireland. She is also living with HS and has a keen interest in lifestyle, wellbeing, and Hidradenitis Suppurativa.