The Impact of Body Shaming: How It Affects Mental Health

Our increasingly image-conscious world has given rise to a number of new or developing phenomena around the topics of body size, shape, and weight, and, unfortunately, one of those effects has been an increased experience of body shaming.

While body shaming occurs as the result of mean-spirited comments much of the time, it’s not the only way someone can face this disheartening scenario. Sometimes, body shaming is rolled into well-meaning, though misguided, advice about diet, exercise, or lifestyle choices. And sadly, there have been growing reports of people in bigger bodies experiencing discriminatory comments or behaviors from medical professionals. [1]

The issue affects people of all ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds, and body shapes and sizes, and it can have long-term psychological and emotional effects. But there are ways to combat this pervasive issue, and to build a healthier relationship with your outer appearance and inner-self in the face of these comments.

What is Body Shaming?

Body shaming is a form of bullying or discrimination involving negative comments about someone’s physical appearance. And while it is often intentionally humiliating—and generally embarrassing for someone to experience—it can sometimes be trickier to spot.

Some ways body shaming manifests include:

  • Mean comments, whether online or face-to-face
  • Diet, exercise, or lifestyle advice, particularly when unsolicited
  • Criticism about recent weight gain, weight loss, or other changes to physical appearance
  • Criticism about someone’s wardrobe, appearance, or food/diet choices
  • Jokes, whether intentionally mean or not, about someone’s appearance or diet choices

These kinds of experiences can come from anywhere, whether they’re made by strangers on the internet or family, friends, peers, or even doctors.

Importantly, someone can also experience body shaming in their own self-talk, telling themselves things like, “I look so fat today,” or “I need to stop eating so much.” This harmful habit is almost always learned or absorbed from societal expectations and the previous experience of body shaming.

Body Shaming

The Spread of Body Shaming

One of the biggest issues about body shaming is that many factors may propagate this type of behavior, working to spread body image concerns or make people feel inadequate about their own appearance.

Social Media

Social media has become a powerful tool, allowing people to connect and share information instantly across the globe. But unfortunately, rather than showcase a number of different ways bodies can be beautiful, these platforms have helped perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards, which has led to a rise in body dissatisfaction.

Many aspects of social media may work to influence self-body shaming, with studies consistently showing users reporting higher internalizations of the thin-ideal and suffering from other aspects of consistent widespread comparison. [2]

Cyberbullying has also seen a rise in the age of social media. [3] Comments and messages can be sent by anyone, at any time, anonymously, creating a nearly perfect storm for people to feel comfortable making nasty comments about someone’s appearance.

Media Representation

Even as social media has become the new age way to relay information, mainstream media remains a strong source of perpetuating pop culture and societal ideals, including beauty standards.

Traditional forms of mass media, including magazines, movies, and even music videos, have long been tied to the perception of beauty across certain cultures, with most Western cultures adopting the ideal of a thin or fit body as the ultimate goal. [4]

Consistently seeing these body types idolized, and other body types relegated to less desirable characters, can make an impact on how someone feels about their own body or the bodies and appearances of others.

Peer Pressure

Peer pressure can make people feel they need to conform to the standards of beauty set by their peers. This phenomenon is particularly strong in teens and adolescents, who are generally at a more vulnerable time in their lives for forming body image issues and related mental health problems. [5]

This type of learned expectation can extend to someone’s relationship with their family, with children found to often adopt similar ideas around body shape, size, and image as their parents or other family members. [5]

Diet Culture

Diet culture is a highly-pervasive set of beliefs that pit a slender/fit body as the ideal body type, and insinuate, outrightly or subtly, that other body types, weights, or shapes are “wrong.” This kind of mindset can contribute to weight stigma, whether experienced consciously or not.

People who believe in the tenets of diet culture may wrongly believe that people in bigger bodies look that way because they’re “lazy” or unhealthy. This could lead them to make unhelpful comments about someone’s diet, lifestyle, or appearance, whether or not they realize they’re actually participating in body shaming. They may give someone tips to lose weight, or make subtle or outright criticisms about their choices.

Effects of Body Shaming

Unfortunately, body shame can—and often does—lead to a number of other mental health issues, some of which can be deeply impactful and make a powerful difference in someone’s quality of life.

Poor Self-Esteem

The teasing, negative comments, and bullying someone may experience as body shaming can contribute to the formation of poor self-esteem. [6] And this quality has been tied to a number of mental and even physical health concerns.

Someone with poor self-esteem often feels inadequate and unworthy. They may feel they don’t deserve happiness or success, which can contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.

Chronic low self-esteem has even been hypothesized as the common factor necessary for developing an eating disorder. [7] And low self-esteem—particularly from a history of bullying—has been connected to many eating disorders, including binge eating disorder (BED), and bulimia nervosa (BN).

Negative Body Image

When someone continually receives body shaming comments, it’s not uncommon for them to develop a negative body image. Closely related to poor self-esteem, negative body image can bring on its own host of negative effects on someone’s mental health.

Someone struggling with negative body image may start to compare themselves to others more regularly, and feel inadequate or unattractive. They may become overly self-critical and feel they don’t measure up. They may also start to feel like they don’t deserve to be happy or to have a good life.

A negative body image has also been connected to disordered thoughts and behaviors around food, eating, and appearance, including extreme dieting, excessive exercise, and unhealthy compensatory behaviors, such as laxative abuse. [8] People may start using food to cope with their negative feelings, or they may become obsessed with their weight and body size.

Body Dysmorphia

On the extreme end of the poor self-esteem and negative body image often associated with body shaming is body dysmorphia, a mental health condition characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with one’s physical appearance, which often centers around perceived “flaws,” whether or not they truly exist.

People with body dysmorphia may obsess over their body size or shape, or become overly critical of their physical features. And like many of the harmful mental health effects of body shaming culture, body dysmorphia can also act to develop or drive dangerous disordered behaviors around eating and exercise, or bring on other related issues, such as depression, anxiety, and social isolation.


Like many forms of bullying, body shaming can frequently lead to depression.

This mental health condition often works to drive or develop many other mental health concerns, and, on its own, can cause a number of physical symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, and digestive problems. [9]

Depression has also been tied to difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and difficulty concentrating. Those who are depressed may also experience feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and helplessness. [9]



People who have been body-shamed may feel anxious in social situations, as they have learned to fear judgment or ridicule from others. And the experience of anxiety, or development of an anxiety disorder, could double-down on someone’s self-consciousness, leading them to over-analyze how they’re being outwardly perceived.

Anxiety also has a clear and consistent connection to the development of disordered or unhealthy behaviors regarding food, eating, and exercise. [10] And the condition can lead to other chronic issues, including restlessness, digestive issues, muscle tension, and irritability. [11]

Strategies to Combat Body Shaming

With so many prevalent forces in play, it can feel difficult to overcome body shaming or develop a healthier relationship with one’s self.

And though it’s not possible to stop body shaming outright, there are strategies that may help you or a loved one foster a sense of body positivity, among a sea of negative comments.

Practice Self-Love

Self-love is about recognizing and appreciating your own unique beauty and worth, regardless of body shape or size. This practice involves telling or showing yourself how much you appreciate yourself, and focusing on all of the beautiful and even miraculous things your body can do, rather than getting stuck on a negative or “lack” mindset.

Self-love can come in a number of different forms. You can recite positive mantras, treat yourself to a day at the spa, move your body in ways that feel good, journal your thoughts and feelings, or practice another hobby you enjoy. The idea is to show yourself the care and love you deserve, seeing yourself not merely as a body shape or size, but as a whole human, with positive things to contribute to the world.

Use Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are statements you can use to help to remind yourself of your worth and value, and to help continue cultivating and maintaining a positive mindset.

Generally, these affirmations are short but sweet phrases, reminding yourself that you are beautiful, that you are worthy, and that your body is a miraculous vessel. You can write these thoughts down, speak them out loud, or even use them as a mantra. Some people benefit from saying these affirmations to themselves, in the mirror, to look at themselves while they receive compliments and other positive remarks.

Find Supportive Friends and Family

No one goes through this world alone. And a strong support system has been found to bolster mental health, while acting as a buffer against negative comments and self-talk. [12]

Family and friends who are sensitive to your feelings and respect you as a person, rather than treat you as someone who needs to “shape up” or “learn better,” can be hugely helpful assets in your life. Likewise, it may be best to limit your time around those who offer unsolicited advice about your lifestyle choices or who focus heavily on issues of appearance in general.

A number of mental health and eating disorder support groups also exist, to help bring together and create communities of people who are there to share their experiences and look out for one another.

Health at Every Size Movement

The Health at Every Size Movement is a new and rapidly growing philosophy to counteract the negative and dangerous beliefs perpetuated by diet culture.

This movement teaches that health is achievable at every size, and helps people learn to focus on other aspects of life that are far more important than physical appearance. The movement may also have additional advice on how to shore up positive thoughts and weed toxic or harmful people out of your life.

Finding Help for Mental Health

If you’re dealing with issues around body shaming, negative self-talk, or poor self-esteem, help is available.

There are a number of therapies that can help you learn how to recognize and change negative thoughts and behaviors, as well as more fully love and embrace yourself and cultivate a more positive life and perspective.

If you’re unsure where to start looking, you can consult your primary care physician for recommendations on a therapist, psychologist, support group, or other mental health program. A number of mental health hotlines can also provide more resources and information.

But regardless of where you look, the most important step is looking for help. Body shaming can be a damaging experience to go through, but it doesn’t have to be a defining one.


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Published on December 17th, 2023. Published on