Body Love and Body Kindness, Feminism and Love, Healing Difficult Emotions, Uncategorized

Body-Anxiety and Body-Shame: The Epidemic and the Escape

I believe that Body Peace is the birthright of every single girl and woman in the world.[1] I also believe that most girls and women are being robbed of this birthright every single day of their lives.

Body Peace

Body Peace is the confidence and strength we possess when we trust our body’s natural wisdom and beauty and draw on this trust to develop a healthy, flourishing life. Body  Peace is a type of Power that allow us to feel confident with ourselves and our place in the world.

When we have Body Peace, we trust our bodies. We know that our bodies are naturally wise and want us to be healthy and strong. We understand that our bodies know the right things for us to eat, how we need to move to feel good, and we know that our bodies are on our side.

When we have Body Peace, we value our body’s unique wisdom, beauty, and strength. We know that as we love and support our body, it expresses this unique wisdom, beauty, and strength naturally.

When we have Body Peace, we honor our own unique wisdom, beauty, and strength, and we know that its unique expression is always good enough and deserving of love and appreciation. We never have to be anyone other than who we are.

When we have Body Peace, we reject any suggestion that we need to look differently than we look now. We recognize that our bodies have strong and weak moments, healthy and sick moments, beautiful and not-so-beautiful moments. We embrace all of these moments as a part of our unique journey and recognize that they provide valuable feedback.

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How Do We Know Body Peace is Our Birthright?

When we look at little kids and how they operate with their bodies, it becomes clear that Body Peace is our natural state. Little kids do not worry if their bodies are good enough or lovable enough.

Little kids are concerned about food when they are hungry, but they don’t get caught up worrying about food all the time, obsessing about what they can’t eat, and wondering if they are eating the right thing or the right amount.  Little kids love to move and explore and try new things.

It is only as kids get older and they become aware of other people’s opinions of their bodies or their food intake that they start to become disconnected from their own body wisdom and peace. (I remember this happening  to me in about fourth grade. For many girls today, it is happening at a much younger age.)

Animals are this same way. Animals don’t worry about if they are eating the right thing or the right amount. They eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. They move to feel good, not to look a certain way. (And they are beautiful being their unique animal selves.)

We have this same animal wisdom inside us. Of course, we have free will in a way that other animals do not. Nevertheless, our bodies naturally know how to eat and how to move to be healthy, and it is possible for us to learn to reconnect with them to rediscover Body Peace.[2]

Non-traditional prayer (1)

Body-Shame and Body-Anxiety

I would like to say that Body Peace is the norm among girls and women today. Unfortunately, the opposite is true: we are suffering from an epidemic of body-anxiety and body-shame.

What is body-anxiety? Body-anxiety is an emotion and state of mind we experience when we feel like we can’t trust our body and that our body is not good enough in some way.

Body-shame, on the other hand, is an emotion or state of mind we experience when we have a strong feeling of hate or disgust about our body and find it completely wanting and inadequate. We may even feel betrayed by our body and feel like it is our enemy.

Occasional feelings of body-anxiety or body-shame are probably normal, just like other emotions like sadness, anger, and disappointment are normal. Feelings like this can be an invitation to look at patterns in our thinking or influences in our environment that are triggering us.

Chronic body-anxiety, however, is a sign that something is off.

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Body-anxiety and body-shame teach girls and women these things:

They cannot trust their bodies, and their bodies are shameful or out of control and must be kept in line by meeting some kind of external standard (like being a certain size or weight or like meeting some other such standard.)

They cannot value their own unique wisdom, beauty, and strength, and they are only beautiful and lovable if they meet some external standard someone else (some “expert”) has set for them.

They cannot honor their own unique wisdom, beauty, and strength because any body expression that does not meet the external standards someone else has set for them is worthless, ugly, gross, etc.

They cannot embrace themselves as they are right now but must constantly be anxious about if they are beautiful and good enough, and they must constantly work really hard to meet external standards of attractiveness.[3]

Body-anxiety and body-shame teach girls and women that the most important thing is what everyone else thinks about them and their bodies.

Is Chronic Body-Anxiety and Body-Shame Actually a Widespread Problem?

I am especially concerned about body-anxiety and body-shame because I believe it is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States, and it is really hurting girls and women. Here are just a few statistics showing how significant of a problem it is:

A recent study conducted by Glamour Magazine suggests that 97% of women experience feelings of hate towards their body at least once a day.

The Renfrow Center Foundation for Eating Disorders found that “80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance” and that “25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a method of managing their weight.”

The website Eating Disorder Hope notes that “50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives to control their weight.

A Girls’ Attitude Survey found that “Some 40 percent of 7- to 10-year-olds sometimes felt ashamed or embarrassed about their bodies, with 15 percent feeling this way most of the time. This statistic is sad enough in itself, but just 10 years later the figures rocket upwards. Among 17- to 21-year-olds, 78 percent felt that same shame and embarrassment (50 percent most of the time).”

A study released by the Keep It Real Campaign suggests that “80 percent of all 10 years old girls have dieted at least one time in their lives.”

What Do These Statistics Suggest?

These statistics indicate that not only are a most girls and women constantly experiencing extremely negative thoughts about themselves on a daily basis, these negative thoughts are encouraging a high percentage of them to engage in behaviors that harm their health in both the short and the long term. (e.g. An increasing body of evidence suggests that most types of diets are harmful, and they increase the risk of eating disorders.)

The Pain is Real and Present

I have been writing this blog Love is Stronger for a year and a half now, and I write on all sorts of different topics connected with self-love, body-love, and love and interpersonal relationships.

Of all the posts I have written in a year and a half, the post that gets the most hits by far is a post I wrote a year ago titled, “Five Things You Can Do When You Feel Ugly and Gross and Your Confidence Falls Into a Deep Dark Well.” (You can read that post here.)

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This post has over three thousand views. People view it every single day, and there is no sign of this slowing down.

WordPress also has a feature that allows me to see the search words that people use to find my posts. Here is just a sample of the search words and phrases for the past two months:

How to gain confidence when you feel worthless and ugly

Why do I feel so gross?

Ugly and gross

Why do I feel so gross in my body?

My body is so gross

All I can do is think about how gross I am

I feel gross

Why am I so gross?

These searches have happened every single day of every month for the past year. If you are one of the readers who have googled these search terms and read this post, I see and honor your pain, Friend, and you are part of why I am writing this post and the posts to follow.

My Own Struggles

I deeply sympathize with these feelings.

For a good portion of my life, I struggled with extreme body-anxiety and body-shame that I developed because of several severe bullying instances I experienced when I was younger and because of distorted cultural message that I internalized growing up. (Note: Bullying incidences have been strongly correlated to body-anxiety, body-shame, and eating disorders, especially in people who already have anxious or perfectionist tendencies.)

At one point in my life, I felt ugly and gross almost every single day of my life. I never developed a full-fledged eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, but I struggled for years with severe body-anxiety and shame that made me want to hide my body all the time and that also caused me to develop some obsessive-compulsive behaviors around food and other body-related issues.

I was eventually able to heal my severe anxiety and shame in my early and mid-thirties and tend to struggle with it only periodically now, as I have developed a lot of coping tools to help (you can read a little bit about this here, here, and here).[4]

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These days, I feel a lot less like hiding and a lot more like playing. 

One of my main goals in life now is to help girls and women heal from body-anxiety and body-shame and to develop healthy, loving relationships with their body.

I am not a doctor or nutritionist, so I am not writing about these issues from that perspective. Rather, I am an academic philosopher who is very interested in how our thinking patterns and beliefs are structured and how they help or discourage us from flourishing.

I also study critical theory and feminist philosophy, two disciplines which examine thinking patterns in society which dehumanize people and shut down people’s ability to critique harmful societal messages. I also study certain aspects of philosophy of religion (with a focus on Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism) that emphasize the internal wisdom and goodness we all possess.

Lastly, I have been a middle, high school or college instructor for the last twenty-four years, and I have seen first-hand how body-shame and body-anxiety can affect young women. I often write with these amazing women in mind, wishing them peace and freedom from suffering.

I am writing primarily from these perspectives.

How Do We Know If We Are Struggling With Body-Anxiety and Body-Shame?

Remember that body-anxiety and body-shame cause girls and women to distrust their own natural wisdom, beauty, and strength, and to believe that they must meet some kind of external standard to be worthy and beautiful.

Given this, a person might be exhibiting signs of body-anxiety and body-shame if she regularly engages in the following behavior:

She criticizes a part of her body such as her thighs, her stomach, or her bottom or breasts.

She calls herself fat or puts down herself in some other way.

She talks frequently about how much she weighs and how much weight she needs to lose.

She compares herself to another person unfavorably (in terms of her body or appearance).

She talks about all the fun things she will do or the cool clothes she will wear once she loses weight.

She talks about the stringent eating plan she is adopting.

She talks about how she is adopting a “healthy living” or exercise plan, but it is clear that the plan is primarily related to losing weight.

She expresses panic about how she is out of control in her eating.

She expresses disgust and despair about her body.

She judges another girl or woman or person because of how much she weighs or for an outfit she is wearing that does not “flatter her figure”.

She makes continual comments about how much weight people have lost or gained.

She suggests that someone would be so much more attractive if she lost weight.

She suggests that someone let herself go because she gained weight.

She suggests that someone’s partner or spouse left her because she gained weight.

Does This Sounds Familiar?

If you are like me, reading the list above makes you feel a little uncomfortable because you often find yourself saying at least some of these things or you hear other people making these comments regularly.

If you are feeling this discomfort, please realize you do not have to feel ashamed about suffering body-anxiety and body-shame and engaging in their related behaviors. Most people develop these behaviors when they are very young and are even encouraged to do so by well-meaning authority figures and other not-so-well-meaning influences in their lives.

We can become aware of these unhealthy behaviors without needing to blame or shame ourselves for them. The important thing is to be willing to heal from this anxiety and shame and to be willing to lay down our need to shame other people for body-related issues.

A Start To the Healing Process

To help us start the healing process, I would like you to ask yourself a second set of questions. The questions above helped you reflect on times you have observed yourself or other people exhibiting signs of body-anxiety and body-shame. The questions below ask you to reflect on instances when you have witnessed people exhibiting healthy signs of Body Peace and its accompanying behaviors:

Body Peace #1

Questions:

How many girls and women do you know that love their bodies exactly as they are at the moment?

How many girls and women do you know who marvel at the wonder of their bodies and all of the amazing things they can do?

How many women do you know who find joy and pleasure in their bodies? By joy and pleasure, I am referring feelings of deep satisfaction and happiness about being alive and a physical being?

How many women do you know who feel deeply comfortable and at home in their own skin?

How many girls and women do you know who believe they are beautiful and wonderful and desirable right now no matter how much they weigh or what size they are?

How many girls and women do you know who regularly feel confident and powerful in their bodies?

How many girls and women do you know who believe they are perfectly desirable, lovable, and beautiful just the way they are?

How many girls and women do you know who feel comfortable and joyful and relaxed eating all sorts of food without restrictions or worry?

The Bad New and the Good News

If you are like me, most girls and women I know (including myself sometimes) really struggle to feel any of these feelings consistently. That’s the bad news.

The goods news is that I believe it is possible for girls, women, and anyone else who wants to do so to develop a set of amazing tools that help them develop Body Peace.

In future posts, I will be discussing some of these tools. However, in my next few posts, I will be discussing the most common reasons that women develop body-anxiety and body-shame, and how to combat the messages and misconceptions that contribute to these feelings.

Postscript: If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on social media or with someone you know.

You also might enjoy these posts:

Five Things You Can Do When You Feel Ugly and Gross and Your Confidence Falls Into a Deep Dark Well

What To Do When You Hate Your Body

[1] Because body-anxiety, body-shame, and eating disorders affect women and girls and such a disproportionate rate, I am addressing this post to them specifically. However, I definitely believe that these same experiences are increasingly affecting boys and men. In addition, I know non-binary, transgender, and other folks in the LGTBQ community often deal with these same issues. This post is for all of you, Friends.

[2] If you would like to read more about the natural wisdom our body has, check out this article from Psychology Today that reports on the effectiveness of Intuitive Eating, which is an eating practice that helps people tap into their natural body wisdom and has been proven to have excellent holistic benefits on those who practice it.

[3] These aren’t the only messages body-anxiety and body-shame teach us, but they are some of the most common ones.

[4] I still occasionally have flare-ups of body-anxiety and body-shame, and I have to revisit the tools I have learned to show myself compassion and love. To anyone who is trying to overcome severe body-anxiety and body-shame, I see you and honor your process. You will make it. We will make it.

17 thoughts on “Body-Anxiety and Body-Shame: The Epidemic and the Escape”

  1. Loved what you said in the article you linked in here about a rose unfolding in its own unique beauty. You have such a lovely way with words 🙂 (and pictures!) Love the hoola-hooping too.

  2. You do have such a talent for writing memorable phrases (affirmations), and your illustrations are fabulous. I also like that you acknowledge that sometimes our bodies don’t do what we want them to. I agree that body anxiety starts at around 7. Then starting periods is such a huge thing, and I wonder if that’s when a lot of girls feel out of control, and like their body is out to get them? There is so much period-fear and period-shame, much of it unconscious. But if you have already begun to address body shame, I think there is a protective factor. A few years ago my partner and I decided that we were not going to comment on anyone’s body shape, (positive or negative) e.g. when watching tv, and I note now, that no one in the family does this. I am sure that this has a knock-on effect on our teenage girls. That is a tiny part of it…

    1. Ali, your encouragement means so much! Thank you, Friend. Yes, I agree with you. Sometimes our bodies confuse us, and we feel alienated from them, and I think that is a normal part of life. I have noticed a lot more body anxiety around young girls, too, and I agree that periods can be confusing and scary. I know they were often for me. I really love that so many more women today are writing about menstruation and women’s bodies in a way that celebrates feminine power. Here is a book that does this. I have not read it yet, but I am really excited to. I have read other books by this woman:

      https://www.amazon.com/Love-Your-Lady-Landscape-Feminine/dp/1781807361/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1523798133&sr=8-1&keywords=love+your+lady+landscape

      It sounds like you and your partner are doing an amazing job of setting a body-positive environment for your girls. Good for you! Much love to you.

  3. As a fellow former “body basher,” I love your message and I also want to help people find peace with themselves and their body. I would love to see a future where no one even understands what it means to not love yourself. Thank you for this post and all the ones I will be reading in the coming weeks as I peruse your blog.
    PS I love the art too.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by, Friend, and for taking time to read my post and comment. I so agree with you! I love your vision of the future. I will work for it with you <3.

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