We are suffering an epidemic of body anxiety and body shame.
I believe that Body Peace is the birthright of every single girl and woman in the world. I also believe that most girls and women are being robbed of this birthright every single day of their lives.
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. And 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. And 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.
And we embrace all of these moments as a part of our unique journey and recognize that they provide valuable feedback.
“Dancing with Helen Moller”, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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.
Instead, 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.
“A Pair of Dancing Women”, Antonio Zucchi, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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.
“Despair”, by Bertha Wegmann, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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. (These might be standards like being a certain size or weight.)
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. That is 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.
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. In addition, 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.)
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. I also developed these painful feelings 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. This is especially the case 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 Body Shame that made me want to hide my body all the time. It 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 I 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).
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. i also want to help them 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. These disciplines examine thinking patterns in society which dehumanize people and shut down people’s ability to critique harmful societal messages.
And 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.
So, 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 it can also cause them 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.
And 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.
And 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.
And 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.
And she expresses panic about how she is out of control in her eating.
She expresses disgust and despair about her body.
And 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.
And 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.
And 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. That is 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.