Many of us understand that bullying comes from, well, bullies. When it comes to body shaming however, we found out something different, body shaming comes most often from those closest to us. One study revealed it takes women half their lifetime to feel just half of the body confidence teenage boys experience in adolescence.
With 94 percent of teenage girls and 64 percent of boys reporting some level of ridicule for the way they look, body shaming doesn’t just affect one type of person or body type.
To learn more, we surveyed over 1,000 men and women across the country about their experiences with body shaming and the people in their lives – from parents to significant others – who’ve left them feeling worse about themselves. Read on to see what we learned about the parts of the body Americans say are the most criticized and where that shaming is really coming from.
Battling Beauty Standards
From famous actresses like Gal Gadot, pop stars like Kelly Clarkson, and even everyday performers like the Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra in Toronto – there are no limits to the types of people who struggle with body shaming or the way it happens. According to our survey, 90 percent of Americans surveyed admitted to having experienced body shaming at least once in their life.
One might think that these body shaming experiences would allow those suffering to be empathetic and less likely to continue the cycle, however that is not what the data shows. We asked people if they had body shamed others, and we found that those who had been body shamed were 32% more likely to shame others, that those who had not been body shamed themselves. Thus, the cycle of body shaming is a self perpetuating loop.
What’s Bringing You Down?
Men and women identified two parts of their own bodies they felt were often the most criticized: their bellies and their legs. For women, the pressure to be “toned” can leave them unhappy and, in some cases, unhealthy as they pursue unrealistic and unattainable weight goals. Men may experience similar standards of what the “ideal” body looks like, which typically includes the need for chiseled, well-defined abdominal muscles and a thin waist. Other common body parts Americans identified they’d been shamed over included their breasts, butt, arms, and face.
Your Own Worst Critic
The powerful impact of body shaming on men and women has been linked to dangerous eating disorders, unhealthy diet and exercise practices, and even mental health concerns like depression or anxiety. In one survey, 2 in 5 women and 1 in 5 men admitted they were willing to consider plastic surgery in the future to permanently modify their body image.
And where exactly is most of this shaming coming from? Overwhelmingly, both men and women identified feeling pressured by the media to obtain a certain body image. Research has shown looking at magazines for as little as one hour lowers the self-esteem of 80 percent of girls. As we learned, parents, friends, and society in general were other sources of shaming in many people’s lives.
Sources of Shaming
The effects of mainstream media and social media on the way both men and women see their own bodies have been well-documented. Sadly, it isn’t always people you don’t know who make you feel ashamed about the way you look.
Nearly 63 percent of women said they’d been body shamed by their mothers, and close to 62 percent said they’d experienced similar stigmas focused on their image by friends. While men also reported high rates of body shaming from friends, they were more likely to endure shaming from classmates and co-workers than from parents. While parents may not realize the full impact of their words, one study found more than 1 in 3 kids admitted to feeling bullied by comments made by their parents that were geared toward their weight or appearance.
Nearly half of women and more than 23 percent of men said they’d experienced body shaming from their significant others. While not always deliberate, even passive comments to someone you’re in a relationship with about their body or image can become harmful and even controlling. Other sources of body shaming in the lives of Americans across the country came from grandparents, teachers, and employers.
In Their Own Words
For some people, body shaming crosses the line into verbal abuse and cruelty. One woman told us her mother said she shouldn’t wear certain clothing because of her size, while another said she’d been made to feel inferior to her siblings who might be skinnier or perceived as more attractive. One person admitted being told, “You’d be so cute if you lost weight” by their father when they were 14 years old, while another acknowledged feeling “constant ridicule about being too skinny” since age 13. Often referred to as “skinny shaming,” ridiculing a person for being thin can be just as harmful as body shaming geared toward men and women perceived as overweight.
Mainstream and social media may often bear the brunt of criticism for creating unrealistic body standards for men and women of all ages, but as we learned, the ridicule Americans endure over their weight or appearance also comes from people in their personal lives. More than just comments and criticism from their parents and significant others, people we polled told us their bosses, colleagues, and even friends left them feeling worse about their bodies.
Thankfully, there are ways to reduce the stigma surrounding the toxic (and sometimes digitally manipulated) images of “beauty” seen online and in magazines today. Promoting healthy standards of living rather than those based on an idealized body image could help millions of men and women across the country from feeling the negative emotions associated with body shaming.
We collected 1046 Surveys from Americans. 432 of those participants were men and 578 were women. Attention checks were present throughout the survey. Waiting was applied. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on means alone. As such, this content is purely exploratory.
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