body image shame affects our lives
very own bodies” fill us with disgust and feelings of worthlessness,
shame can fundamentally change who we are and how we approach the
world. Below are some brief examples of how body image shame shapes
many facets of our lives.
The women who stays quiet in public out of the fear that her stained
and crooked teeth will make people question the value of her contributions.
The women who told me
that the one thing she hates about being fat is the constant pressure
to be nice to people. “If you’re bitchy, they might
make a cruel remark about your weight.”
The young mother who struggles to maintain a relationship with both
her own body and with her mother in the face of her mother’s
shaming attacks. She says, “Shame is my mom still being hateful
about my weight. Every time I go home to visit with my husband and
kids the first thing she says is, ‘My God, you’re still
fat!’ and the last thing she says when I walk out the door
is, ‘Hopefully you can lose some weight.’ She’s
screwed me up so bad already you think she’d be over it by
now, but no, she just keeps going.
The women who talked about how body shame either kept them from
enjoying sex or pushed them into having it when they didn’t
really want to but were desperate for some type of physical validation
There were also many women who talked about the shame of having
their bodies betray them. These were women who spoke about physical
illness, mental illness and infertility. We often conceptualize
“body image” too narrowly— it’s more than
being thin. When we begin to blame and hate our bodies for failing
to live up to our expectations, we start splitting ourselves in
parts and move away from our wholeness— our authentic selves.
We can’t talk about shame and motherhood without talking about
the pregnant body. I think there are stages to the pregnant body—
each susceptible for shame in its own way:
The women who
wants to become pregnant— I heard story after story
about the pressure to be thin and in top shape before embarking
on the pregnancy journey. One of the quotes in the book is from
a woman who took her own health and her prenatal care into her hands
to avoid hearing that she was too fat to be pregnant.
body— Has any body image been more exploited in the
past few years? Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for exploring
the wonders of the pregnant body and removing the stigma and shame
of the pregnant belly. But let’s not create one more air-brushed,
computer-generated, shame-inducing image for women to not be able
to live up to. Movie stars who gain 15 pounds and have their stretch
marks painted away for their “look I’m human too”
portraits do not represent the realities that most of us face while
body— When women spoke to me about their post-baby
body image struggles, I heard more than experiences of shame. I
heard grief, loss, anger and fear. In addition to the weight gain,
hemorrhoids and stretch marks, women struggle with the very real
and permanent changes that we often experience after pregnancy and
delivery. Again, the media is a very strong force in the expectation-setting
done around post-pregnancy body images. Give us a week and we’ll
be back in our boot-cut jeans, midriff-baring t-shirts and toting
our child around like the year’s hottest accessory. Hot Mama!
Body Image & Parenting
I’m a vulnerable, imperfect parent. As such, I’m not
one to jump on the “blame parents for everything— especially
the mothers” bandwagon. Having said that, I will tell you
what I found in my research. Shame begets shame. Parents have a
tremendous amount of influence over children and body image development.
When it comes to parenting and body image, parents fall on a continuum.
On one side of the continuum, there are parents who are keenly aware
that they are the most influential role models in their children’s
lives. They work diligently to model positive body image behaviors
(self-acceptance, acceptance of others, no emphasis placed on the
unattainable or ideal, deconstructing media messages, etc.).
On the other side of
the continuum are parents who love their children as much their
counterparts, but are so determined to spare their daughters the
pain of being overweight or unattractive (and their sons the pain
of being weak) that they will do anything to steer their children
toward achievement of the ideal – including teasing and shaming
them. Many of these parents struggle with their own body images
and process their shame by shaming.
Last, there are the folks
in the middle, who really do nothing to counter the negative body
image issues but also don’t shame their children. Unfortunately,
due to societal pressures and the media, most of these kids do not
appear to develop strong shame resilience skills around body image.
One final area where body image is tested is aging. What I hear
over and over from women is that the power of aging stereotypes
is far more painful than the actual aging process. I met a wonderful
woman recently who, after reflecting on why she felt shame about
aging, said, “It’s not getting older that hurts—
it’s the fact that I actually believe all the myths about
myself and my abilities and my body. I don’t think
my body has betrayed me— my expectations are betraying me.”