No matter how or why anyone’s body looks the way it does, we all deserve to be respected and treated with care. A weary friend in crisis from KwaZulu-Natal writes to Sisters Without Shame this week and says that she is nervous about going home for Easter holidays over fears of body shaming by her family.
Holidays typically spark up visions of peace, serenity and togetherness in our heads. But too many times insensitive people can shatter this vision with body shaming comments.
You wouldn’t think that body shaming could have an impact on your mental health, but it does.
Centurion-based clinical psychologist Lumka Mabo joins this episode of Sister Without Shame to unpack the psychological impacts of body shaming.
Easter gatherings are centred around food and it’s a time of year when folks often visit with relatives they don’t regularly see.
For reasons unknown though, people seem empowered to make insensitive, cruel and bigoted comments about size and whatever you will be putting on your plate. Our weary friend from Pinetown says that she is always body shamed when she visits home.
According to Mabo body shaming is “the criticism of another individual’s body size, making unkind remarks. Sometimes they are obvious.”
Mabo tells Health For Mzansi, “It would be nice for people to genuinely be sensitive when making remarks or giving compliments.”
What are the psychological effects of body shaming?
Mabo explains that body shaming can lead to mental health issues including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and *body dysmorphia.
“Those that are listening [to your comments] may interpret them otherwise… it may not sit well with you [the recipient]… We have different understandings of what these comments may mean… I think it would be nice for people to generally be sensitive when making remarks or giving compliments because sometimes it is meant to be a compliment, but then it ends up being very negative. So it would be lovely for us to be mindful.”
Psychologic effects include:
Low self-esteem: Self-image and self-worth decrease because of hurtful words.
Isolation: People who are constantly harassed about their weight will also be withdrawn. “They will be too scared to come to the table, others might even lie and say that they are not hungry because of how others may look at you. You tend to feel lonelier in that space and you cannot be yourself,” says Mabo.
Eating disorders: Some people will eat because they love the taste of food but eventually you find them in the bathroom trying to purge.
Just be kind
Kindness begins at home with parents, Mabo believes. “When we raise our kids, praise those bumps, affirm them. Let them feel comfortable in their own skin. When you are raising boys, allow them to eat as much as they can, and as they grow older, ask them if they want muscles and teach them how to get those muscles. If they choose otherwise, there is nothing wrong with that.”
Adulthood is where it gets tricky though. “You are old enough to decide where you are lacking emotionally. Identify which parts of your emotions are moved by certain remarks and then work through those.”
Health For Mzansi Word of the Day
*Body dysmorphia: Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others. People of any age can have BDD, but it’s most common in teenagers and young adults. It affects both men and women.
Listen to the full interview on Sisters Without Shame
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