Body shaming culture is one of the worst issues teenage girls and boys have to deal with. For adolescents who struggle with body image issues, negative comments about their appearance can push them over the edge. As a parent, it’s crucial to understand how to help your child if they’re undergoing bullying and body shaming.
Below is everything you need to know to recognize the signs of body shaming, help your child if they’ve been body shamed, and how to help your child overcome body shaming and improve their overall body image.
What is Body Shaming?
Body shaming is also known as fat shaming. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, or ANAND, body shaming is “a form of bullying or harassment characterized by making negative comments about someone’s body or appearance.”
Sadly, studies show over 90% of teenage girls and over 60% of teenage boys have experienced some form of body shaming in their lifetime. Body shaming can occur in person or online, and it can be directed at anyone, regardless of age, gender, or size.
What are the Warning Signs of Body Shaming?
There are several warning signs that your child may be a victim of body shaming or fat shaming. If you notice any of the following signs in your child, it’s important to talk to them about what’s going on and how they’re feeling:
- They’ve become withdrawn and don’t want to participate in activities they used to enjoy
- They’re self-conscious about their body shape and are always trying to cover up
- They’ve started skipping meals or eating less
- They’ve started obsessively exercising to lose weight
- They’ve started self harming
- They’re using diet pills, laxatives, or other weight-loss methods
- They have a sudden change in mood or seem depressed
- They’re anxious or worried all the time
Some children might not readily admit that they’re being body shamed or admit they have body image concerns. In this case, it’s important to look for changes in their behavior or mood. If you notice your child isn’t themselves, it might be time to start a conversation about how they’re feeling. For instance, if you notice your child eating less but they refuse to talk about it, you can gently broach the subject by saying something like, “I noticed you didn’t eat much at dinner tonight. Is everything okay?”
Slowly starting conversations about your child’s mood or behavior can help them feel more comfortable opening up about what’s going on in their life. It can also help your child get help sooner rather than later, as well as prevent the dangers of body shaming.
Significant Dangers Of Body Shaming
Unfortunately, bullying, fat shaming, and body shaming aren’t just comments or name-calling. They can have lifelong repercussions on your child’s mental and physical health. In fact, studies have shown that body shaming can lead to several mental health disorders, including the following:
Experts say that negative self-perception about physical appearance and body image issues can lead to anxiety. To understand why it’s important to know how anxiety works.
Anxiety is a natural human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. For example, you might feel anxious before a big test or a first date. This kind of anxiety is normal and usually goes away once the event is over.
However, some people experience anxiety that’s more constant and intrusive. This kind of anxiety can interfere with daily life and make it hard to concentrate or focus on anything else. People who suffer from anxiety disorders often feel like they’re in danger, even when there’s no real threat present.
Body shaming can trigger these kinds of anxiety disorders in children and teens. When your child is bombarded with messages telling them they’re not good enough or they need to change their appearance, it can lead to a feeling of constant anxiety and fear.
Depression is another mental health disorder that’s often linked to body shaming. In fact, studies show that body shaming has a direct, clear, and strong link to symptoms of depression throughout the school year for young adults.
Like anxiety, depression is a natural human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. For example, you might feel depressed after a loved one dies or you get fired from your job. This kind of depression is normal and usually goes away after a period of time.
Unfortunately, constant self-hatred and isolation due to body shaming can quickly lead to feelings of depression. This kind of depression can interfere with daily life and make it hard to concentrate or focus on anything else. Body shaming manifests as depression with symptoms like:
- Not feeling worthy
- Low self-esteem
- Not wanting to get out of bed
- Having no appetite
- Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Withdraw and don’t want to participate in activities they used to enjoy
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
If your child is already prone to depression, body shaming can exacerbate these symptoms. And, if your child doesn’t have a history of depression, body shaming can still lead to the development of this mental health disorder.
Eating disorders are another potential danger of body shaming, and perhaps one of the most deadly. Studies show that there’s a link between being teased about weight and developing an eating disorder later on. For instance, weight stigma and teasing during sports can lead children to have a negative view of sports and physical activity.
It’s important to note that not all eating disorders are about being thin. In fact, body shaming can lead to a number of different eating disorders, such as bulimia, binge eating disorder, and anorexia.
- Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by bingeing (eating large amounts of food in a short period) and purging (getting rid of the food through vomiting, using laxatives, or excessive exercise).
- Binge eating disorder is an eating disorder that’s characterized by bingeing (eating large amounts of food in a short period of time) but not purging.
- Anorexia is an eating disorder that’s characterized by restricting food intake, often to the point of starvation.
Both bulimia and anorexia can have severe and deadly consequences, including heart arrhythmias, heart failure, and electrolyte imbalances. Binge eating disorder can also lead to obesity, which is associated with a number of health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
If your child is displaying any signs of an eating disorder, it’s important to seek professional help immediately. Unfortunately, eating disorders can be extremely difficult to treat without professional help. That’s why it’s important to catch them early.
Signs your child is suffering from an eating disorder include:
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, fat grams, and dieting
- Making comments about feeling “fat” or “flabby”
- Extreme concern about body size and shape
- Skipping meals or taking very small portions of food
- Eating in secret or hiding food
- Cooking elaborate meals for others but not eating themselves
- Exercising excessively
- Making frequent trips to the bathroom immediately after eating
- Disappearing after meals
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide their own body
How To Help Someone With Body Image Issues
If your family regularly teases your child about their weight, even playfully, it’s important to discuss why these body-shaming comments are hurtful. You might also want to consider seeking professional help to deal with any underlying issues that might be causing the body shaming.
A family therapist is also a great resource for families who want to learn how to communicate in a more effective and positive way.
If your child is already experiencing the negative effects of body shaming, it’s important to talk to them about what they’re going through. Let them know that you’re there for them and that you love them no matter what their body size is.
You might also want to consider anxiety treatment and/or depression treatment for your child. If they’re experiencing anxiety and depression, they might also benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT is a type of therapy that helps people change the way they think and behave. It can be an effective treatment for anxiety and depression.
If your child is displaying signs of an eating disorder, they’ll need to attend weekly sessions with a therapist and/or dietitian. They might also need to see a doctor to rule out any medical problems that could be causing the eating disorder. In severe cases, your child might need to be hospitalized so they can be closely monitored by a team of medical professionals.
Recovery Is Possible
Fortunately, your child can learn to develop the skills needed to accept themselves and their body. With treatment, they can develop a healthy relationship with food and their body.
If you suspect your child is suffering from an eating disorder or is experiencing body shaming, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. The sooner you get them into treatment, the better their chances are for a full recovery.
At Clear Recovery Center Teen Program, we understand how difficult it is to watch your child struggle with an eating disorder and bullying. While we can’t stop body shaming forever, we can offer a comprehensive treatment program that includes weekly therapy sessions, coping skills, and support groups to help your child develop body acceptance. Call us to see how one of our mental health professionals can support and help your child through this difficult stage.