6 Ways You May Be Body-Shaming Without Realizing It

I was in New York City recently, celebrating World Sexual Health Day (SO much fun) and doing a heck of a lot of people watching. Observing others, daydreaming about their lives and experiences, is seriously fun—until it reveals bullying.

While watching others people-watch, I heard numerous demeaning remarks about other folks’ appearance. Some were obvious, others not so much.

“She definitely does not have the body for that,” I heard one woman say about another’s yoga outfit. I couldn’t help but butt in: “I think she looks great, and comfortable.” There’s no right or wrong shape or size for particular clothing. We should all feel free to dress as we wish.

body shaming

Do you agree? I sure hope so. If not, I hope you’ll think more about these issues. Criticizing comments may seem like no big deal, but they can cut deep, contributing to larger cultural problems that affect us all.

When we judge and shame others for their aesthetics, we make the world a harsher place—for everyone, but women, especially. Whether we make brash comments aloud or silently, they’re worth eradicating. As a bonus, doing away with negative-other talk allows us more time and energy for goodness.

Here are six common ways people shame others’ appearance, often without realizing it:

1. “She’s obviously had work done.”

Whether or not a woman (or man) has had work done shouldn’t matter to you. Who cares? Many people seem to make this kind of statement as a way to belittle another, with this kind of mentality: If so-and-so had work done, they cheated, thus I win the attractiveness contest. Psst! There’s no contest. At least, there shouldn’t be.

When you find yourself wondering if someone’s had a cosmetic procedure, stop yourself and remind yourself that it doesn’t matter. If you notice they’ve had excessive amounts, have compassion. Chances are, they’re struggling with low self-esteem and body image.

2. “Wow, you look great! Have you lost weight?”

Praising weight loss suggests that you have to be slim to appear attractive or healthy. Society may tout this as true, but it isn’t. Health and beauty come in all shapes and sizes. And people often lose weight for very unfortunate reasons, such as stress or illness.

One of my favorite perks of recover from decades of poor body image—and worse—is the fact that I don’t look at others and see shapes and sizes. I see people. Aim for that. It’s wondrous.

3. “You don’t look that old!”

Sure, it’s impressive when people maintain a sense of youthfulness longterm—but you can be impressed without shunning aging. What’s wrong with being or appearing older? Nada. Aging reflects our paths and experience, which is a groovy thing.

4. “Women’s Halloween costumes are so slutty.”

If you use the word “slut,” other than to discuss the problematic nature of its existence, STOP IT. Please. No matter what a woman wears on Halloween, or any day, is her decision and not shame-worthy. So don’t shame her. For more on this topic, check out my post from last year: What’s Really Wrong About “Slutty” Halloween Costumes.

5. “At least I have legs!”

I’ve heard variations of this many times, and it’s always bothered me. Not until I saw Stella Young’s phenomenal TED Talk recently did I understand fully why. “We’ve been sold the lie that disability is a Bad Thing—capital B, capital T,” she says. It’s not, she explains, adding that our culture objectifies people with disabilities for the benefit of non-disabled people. Here’s an example: You may dislike how your thighs look, but at least you have them! There’s nothing wrong or unattractive about a body without fewer or different parts than yours. Stop shunning them.

6. “Real women have curves (or six-packs or fill-in-the-blank).”

Trust me, I get it. Celebrating curves you have is far better than bashing them—and curvier, heavier-set women get more body-shaming than thin women. But reversing the discrimination isn’t the answer. Suggesting that you must have curves (or a chiseled, muscular look—a newer trend I’ve noticed) insults people without them. That’s not how we do away with societal’s harsh pressure to appear particular unrealistic and limited ways. We rise up by accepting all looks, while not overvaluing any of them.

*For more on this topic, check out the latest on NEON MOON’s blog: The Truth Behind Fake Body Positivity.

Harsh comments about others’ shape, size or appearance typically have a lot more to do with the sayer than the person being talked about. If you’re prone to making these assessments, take a look within. Trust me, some self-work in this area will be well worth the effort.

What body-shaming remarks have you heard lately? Have you made any yourself? What steps will you take to shift your habits for the better? I love hearing from you!

Leave a comment

23 Comments

  1. I have said Number 5 many times and never once thought of it as shaming to a disabled person. It has always been more of an internal chastisement to quit whining and just be grateful for the beautiful body parts I DO have. However, I can see your point now that you brought it to light. Amazing how twisted our thoughts and perspectives can become.

    Reply
    • I hear you, Sue. Gratitude for what we have is an awesome thing — as long as its not at the expense of others. I highly recommended Stella Young’s TED Talk for more on this subject. It’s incredibly insightful.

      Reply
      • Thank you for suggesting it – I just watched it and did find it insightful and eye opening (or is that the same thing…lol). I never realized I was unconsciously putting someone with disabilities into a “bad” category but this is spot on what I was doing and totally against what I truly believe. Thank you again!

  2. The one I always have to think about is: you look great, have you lost weight? So I stop before opening my mouth and change it to something like: I love that dress it’s such a great color for you, you look so confident…or something like that. And maybe that’s not great either–I just try to not have their looks be about their size.

    I also want to stress that it’s not second nature for some of these because like you said all the conditioning we’ve had. But is it so bad to go through our day thoughtfully instead of on autopilot? This is so important! Thanks August!

    Reply
    • Thanks for your support and honesty, Amy! Love your thoughts.

      The weight one can be tough, considering that societal conditioning you mentioned. One thing I didn’t include there is the danger of complimenting someone’s weight when they’ve lost the weight through risky dieting or disordered eating. Most people regain weight lost through dieting, and praising it only perpetuates negative beliefs and behaviors. If someone’s been starving, purging, overexercising, etc., such remarks are particularly damaging — it’s like praising drug abuse.

      Reply
  3. Well said, my friend. Bravo! 🙂

    Reply
  4. I am judgmental. I’m trying to work on that. The words no longer come out of my mouth but I still haven’t purged the thoughts.
    I’m working on it

    Reply
  5. The hardest thing, it seems, is to think kindly of others, whether it be about their size or what they have to say. I don’t know why our culture seems to thrive on putting others down. It’s really very sad. Thank you for this open, intensive look into our behavior. It gives me much to think about.

    Reply
    • It really is sad, Bette. I think some of it derives from a lack of kindness with ourselves (insecurity, low self-beliefs), but harmful societal messaging runs fierce. Love that you brought up kindness — so key.

      Reply
  6. I have dear friends of all sizes and shapes. In fact, I have family members of all sizes and shapes. I never think more or less of any of them because of that physical appearance, nor would I ever make a disparaging comment to anyone – friend or otherwise – regarding that person’s physical traits. All of that said, it is a fact of life that I and practically all males are initially attracted or not attracted to a female because of her appearance. Fortunately there are men who are attracted to the full figure as well as those of us who are attracted to a more slender figure, but almost all of us do pay attention to a woman’s looks and are drawn, at least when it comes to dating or marriage, by the type of looks we happen to prefer. We may be shallow, but that’s just how most of us are – and I see a lot of women’s comments on FB and other places about men’s abs or crotches or whatever, so I guess it’s not just us guys. Looks or immaterial so far as the value of the person, but they generally are very material in attracting dates and/or mates.

    Reply
  7. paulchimera

     /  September 29, 2015

    Can I contact Ms. McLaughlin in this manner? Thank you.

    Paul

    Reply
  8. I know how it is to be hurt, August. And I love your entire post once more. It’s wonderful,and it does show what an amazing personality you are!. I’m proud to consider you my friend.

    Reply
  9. I think behind every body shame talker is a person who is generally critical of others in most ways. They may not always say it, but they always think it. Maybe calling out body issues is the most fun for them, but to simply pick on others is in their genes. They will need to hit the karma wall in order to change. Victims of body shaming and their supporters know what is done – what terms and attitudes come from the perpetrators even before things are said. They have to have handbook of some sort, and spread the teaching. In schools especially, the authorities have to be on top of this and add it to dealing with mean kids, whether it’s “just in fun” or whatever.

    Reply
  10. As body positive as I am, I’m still guilty of doing some of these from time to time. Definitely need to be more compassionate and kind, and check myself when I automatically say some of these in my mind. Great post!

    Reply

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