Why Should We Be Ashamed of Our Bodies?

You’re sitting in a café having coffee with a friend. Every few minutes you surreptitiously tug at your top so it doesn’t cling to the contour of your stomach.

You receive an invitation to your school reunion.  You’d love to go but feel you can’t because you’ve put on weight and you worry about what people will think.

You regularly scan your body in a full-length mirror, thinking “God, look at my thighs/belly/insert other body part here”.  When you’ve examined all your “defects”, you mutter a conclusive “ugh” before walking away from your reflection in disgust.

What’s the driving emotion behind all these behaviours?

Shame.

We tug at our tops because we believe our bellies are shameful.  We don’t want to see people we haven’t seen for a while in case we feel the shame of their judgement.  We obsess over our reflection looking for “evidence” of our shame – inevitably we find it in all the parts of our bodies we deem unacceptable.

You don’t need me to tell you about society’s relentless obsession with appearance, thinness and “looking good”.  It’s everywhere.  Attempting to hold on to a sense of self whilst navigating the shark-infested, body-shaming waters of social media is a challenging experience alone.

Now, I could give you a bunch of statistics about how the number of people struggling with eating disorders has increased dramatically in the past however-many years.  I could provide you with figures on how many people are currently attempting to diet.  I could tell you the percentage of women and men who report dissatisfaction with their bodies. But I’m not going to.

Because, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

What matters is you.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a thin-obsessed age.  The crucial thing is how we deal with it.

Because we have a choice.

We can surrender to the body-shaming bullshit that says only thin bodies have value and continue to shame our bodies for the rest of our lives.  Or we can decide to reject it, commit to appreciating our bodies and set ourselves free.

Pick a side (I think you can probably tell which side I’m on).

If you’ve decided to stick with Option A and keep focusing on the pursuit of thinness at the expense of your health and sanity.  Good luck.  You can stop reading now.

But for those of you who have chosen Option B – good for you.  Here are a few ideas for you to consider:

 

Put in a body-shaming boundary

Body-shaming messages, like “before-and-after” images on social media, are incredibly triggering so protect yourself as best you can.  I know this is easier said than done because they’re everywhere but it’s good to put in a boundary and reinforce it if necessary. It’s OK to take yourself out of a conversation at work if it turns to dieting or switch off social media if it’s getting to you.  Other people may not understand the path you’re on, but you do and that’s what counts.

Focus less on “looking good” and more on authenticity

When we’re obsessing over our appearance and what’s “wrong” with it, we forget who we are.  We ignore everything else we bring to the table – our warmth, humour, strength, passion, resilience, sensitivity, uniqueness – need I go on?  You could be the most gorgeous-looking person on the planet but if you lack authenticity what is there for people to connect with?  Know your identity beyond your appearance – that’s what endures.

Practise gratitude to your body regularly

It would be great if I could sit here writing this post telling you how much I love my body and how it looks.  But I’d be lying.  Although I’ve come a staggeringly long way from the time when I really couldn’t look in a full-length mirror at all, I’m not immune to what Geneen Roth calls a “Fat-and-Ugly Attack”.  When this happens, I tell my inner bully to do one and immediately list three things I’m grateful to my body for. For me, there’s no better way to restore the balance (it also serves as a reminder for me to practise gratitude more often).

 

I know that it can be hard to appreciate our bodies if we feel they’re letting us down.  But, as fellow blogger Caz from Invisibly Me demonstrates, it’s possible to value our bodies even when struggling with chronic illness. Caz’s blog is full of insight, inspiration and humour. In her post from October last year, “World Ostomy Day”, she explores her “ability to better prioritise the need for self-care and appreciation of my body rather than just focusing on appearances” (click on title to read).

Body-shaming messages may be rife but we don’t have to perpetuate our own shame cycle.

Genetically, we’re not all built the same, it’s ludicrous to think we should all look the same. It’s not for our bodies to conform to some projected ideal and the more we refuse to be ashamed of our bodies, the more we turn the body-shaming tide.

Having a dysfunctional relationship with our bodies is like having a best friend who’s unwaveringly loyal, reliable, helpful, responsive and considerate but who we treat with utter contempt.

They deserve better.

A lot better.

***

“Why Should We Be Ashamed of Our Bodies?” is the focus for this month’s eatonomy group on Saturday 29th June.  For more information, please see the Community page.  To book a place, please use the Contact form.

40 thoughts on “Why Should We Be Ashamed of Our Bodies?

  1. Such a heartfelt and profound post, Julie. If only we could focus on the marvellous things our bodies can do, rather than what they can’t. I think you’re right, though – gratitude is the answer, Lxx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s very difficult not to body shame but I realize how much sense it makes to take my worst and compare to someone’s best. When you take so many pain pills there isn’t a diet that will overcome the extra weight. I still grapple with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You make some very good points. I realize the rules are different for men; however, there is one “shame” issue that I have had to deal with my entire adult life. Have you ever noticed that when the media points to a man that has let himself go, they often pair fat with bald. It is true that sometimes men stop caring about controlling their weight, but how in the heck can one control balding? I started losing my hair when I was 17 years old and in my mind, I was letting myself go and getting ugly because those were the messages I was receiving. I’m here to tell you that I am completely bald and still attractive. It took Bruce Willis 20 years to remove his hairpiece and patiently waiting for more men to show their scalp; it appears to be a very slow awakening. One should not be ashamed of fat and being bald usually means the presence of more testoserone, which can’t be a bad thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make a really good point – it’s not just our bodies that are shamed, there are other aspects of our appearance that can also be shamed, such as baldness. And I agree that depictions of men who have “let themselves go” are usually fat and bald. In a similar vein, women are shamed for getting older and I think a lot of it is driven by fear-mongering on the part of advertisers. They tell us it’s shameful to be old or bald and they have the solution – fear and shame are great ways to sell products. It must have been so difficult for you to begin losing your hair at such a young age but you’ve obviously arrived at a place of acceptance (and even defiance!) which is great to hear. I hope more men can follow your lead. Many thanks for your comment and for contributing to the conversation.

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  4. Thank you Julie for sharing this, as usually I love to be the devil’s advocate actually but let me first agree that we should work hard to eliminate this shame feeling and we should know that authenticity and character are major! Beauty fades and moreover the most beautiful persons can become ugly instantly when they speak and when they are nasty and cruel…etc…and most of all this we should be aware that: genetically, we’re not all built the same! This is very important! Some people don’t make any efforts and they have perfect bodies while others work so hard to have 10% and they don’t often succeed…etc…
    But my question is: nowadays, what is actually helping us to be reconciled with the way we look? I never saw a person expressing their admiration or impression for someone that has obesity problems or not in a perfect shape (I’m so aware that appearances are not everything) but people need to feel loved and admired and unfortunately when you are an ordinary person, you are treated as rubbish sometimes, no one cares how great your heart is! So people feel insecure the entire time, they feel bad about their bodies because they’re surrounded with perfection wherever they go, everything is promoting perfection, and ordinary people hate themselves and their lives! I’m with you all the way, everything you said, and this is what we should do eventually but in the process, how can we fight this? I know that we should be confident and accept ourselves and love ourselves, but it’s not easy when we’re surrounded with very high criteria for everything! I can tell you that in my country, if you go to certain places, you’ll feel so inferior from the way they look at you! I know we shouldn’t feel so but you feel like an intruder dropped from some another planet so how you will feel confident? You rather stick to people like you, ordinary people let’s say so you don’t have this feeling…I’m being realistic, I know that not everyone can be so confident and have a strong character like I do (and I’m also have my weakness moments) so it’s nearly impossible to convince them to love their bodies if they have obesity, genetic, health problems…And I believe each person should consider seeing a psychologist so they can cope and accept because it will be so hard to face this alone.
    Sorry for the long comment and have a good day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Huguette, I think the key thing here is when you say “people need to feel loved and admired”. I agree, it’s great to feel loved and admired by others, but it becomes an issue if we rely on it solely for our sense of worth. If that’s the case, we’re at the mercy of other people’s judgements to tell us we’re OK, and our self-esteem will inflate or collapse, depending on that judgement. This is a precarious way to live (as I know from personal experience) and our sense of self can feel really shaky. That’s why I believe it’s important to work on really knowing and appreciating ourselves and our bodies, and building a solid sense of self on which to rely when we find ourselves in challenging situations, like the ones you describe. As Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – people will try to put us down, but we don’t have to let them. I agree that therapy is a good place to work on self-esteem, as it’s hard to do it alone (but I would say that, wouldn’t I?!) No need to apologise for your lengthy comment, always good to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Told you I’m being the devil’s advocate because I agree on all this but for many people, it’s nearly impossible to apply that’s it. Yes you’re right no one can do anything at all without our consent and permission, I do agree and being loved and admired based on the way we look shouldn’t be our concern at all! But I’m trying to state what’s really happening that’s it and each person should work on their selves and reach this point where they accept and love their selves and if they don’t, improve as much as they can but at the end do it only for them not to receive validation from anyone, and this is where they might need help and yes you would say that and share your rate card as well 😀 let me tell you that despite all what I went through I never saw a psychologist for many reasons related to personal circumstances and so, I fought and I faced but I wish I had a professional help actually 🙂
        Appreciate your reply! Have a great day

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m not underestimating what a struggle it is for many people – I see it in the work I do with clients – but improving self-esteem is a process and I agree it’s definitely easier with help. Many thanks for your response, Huguette, and hope you have a great day too!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. A good many people in the world’s society are closed minded (with many issues) and rather than improve themselves, they attempt to bring one down to their level.. pay them no mind, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realize how seldom they do”.. (Eleanor Roosevelt), and live your life being who you are and wish to be… 🙂

    “The greatest challenge in life is to be our own person and accept that being different is a blessing and not a curse”.. (Kilroy Oldster)..

    Until we meet again;

    May the dreams you hold dearest
    Be those which come true
    May the kindness you spread
    Keep returning to you
    (Irish Saying)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, Dutch, there are people who attempt to alleviate their own sense of shame by dumping it on others. Thank you for the lovely Irish saying. We have a saying in my native Australia: “Don’t let the bastards get you down”. Many thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. You’re so welcome, Kaya. I think it’s always worth remembering we have a choice whether to buy into the body-shaming BS or not. I’m so glad if this post was helpful, many thanks for your comment. Have a great holiday!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Julie, I am truly honoured you mentioned me in your post, and your words have really touched me. Thank you  🌷

    As always, you have raised such poignant points, and it’s true about this thin-obsessed age we live in, the shame we feel, the level of insecurity and unwritten expectations that become so ingrained in our lives. I’m a hypocrite because I struggle to do as I say, and I’ve had a lot of problems with body image over the years. What I can say is that I’m slimmer now than I was when I was younger, but no happier and I still feel self-conscious. I’m actually underweight since my last surgery, but the self-conscious niggles, like the hand that goes to your stomach to cover it up, still remain. I think that appreciating the wonderful things your body does is one way to overcome a little of that shame and to refocus our perspectives a little.

    And, of course, to take a more holistic approach and stop picking ourselves apart and serving up each ‘flaw’ for critique. “We ignore everything else we bring to the table” – that’s so true. We are more than what we look like, and we need to give ourselves the permission to make our own rules and expectations so that we’re not constantly ‘weighing’ ourselves up against what we ‘should’ look like or how we ‘should’ be. Wonderful post, Julie. I think you do such an amazing job of bringing forth compassion and challenging these destructive notions and ideals. Sorry for the ramble!  ♥
    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not a ramble at all! You make really valid points and I think anyone reading will appreciate your honesty about feeling self-conscious about your body. I think it’s OK to struggle sometimes – as I said in the post I’m not immune – it’s an imperfect process, and it’s progress that’s important. I wanted to include something about the challenge of illness and, obviously, your blog immediately came to my mind! Great to hear from you, Caz, many thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. “Loved the way I felt” – that is the key, Kavitha. It’s not about how we measure up or not, it’s about focusing on how we feel. Great to hear your experience and your acceptance of your “fantabulous healthy curves”!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Exactly! There is so much pressure on each of us to have the “perfect” (by someone else’s standards) body. It makes no sense. Our bodies need our care and acceptance, not our rejection!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a really inspiring post Julie, I loved reading it. The comment of tugging at the top really hit home for me instantly. I wrote a body shaming post recently coming from a personal perspective. It is so sad how ‘normal’ it is for people to hate their bodies and constantly want to change them. Accepting your body and also loving it is a challenge and requires such a shift in mindset but that challenge is so worth it in the end. Thanks for sharing this post x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, I’m very touched by your words. You’re right that it is so “normal” for us to hate our bodies – to appreciate our bodies feels like swimming against the current. It does require an enormous shift in perspective to value something we once hated – but what a difference that can make to our lives. I’m keen to check out your blog and read your posts and I look forward to doing that in the coming days. Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I appreciate your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are very welcome. Yes! Could not have said it better myself. It makes such a huge difference to our lives, every aspect too! Amazing, thank you I look forward to hearing your views 🙂 You are welcome, can’t wait to read more x

        Liked by 1 person

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