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Fat Shaming, Slut Shaming: What All the Shaming Means for Your Daughters, and You

shutterstock_155135393There’s a fresh wave of stories about yet another young model told she’s “too fat for the runway.”  To the vast majority of us, that young woman doesn’t have a pound to spare.

And there’s always the latest story of another young woman driven to suicide after being raped, or being bullied for being too sexual or not sexual enough or too hot or not hot enough.  The online world is rife with opportunities to be told that something is wrong with you.

So what’s a parent to do?

Studies show that shaming people for being overweight is psychologically damaging, causing them to eat more and gain more weight.  I’m not sure if the same can be said for other behaviors (for example, if slut shaming makes women feel bad about themselves and they seek to ameliorate their pain through promiscuity.)

But what I can say is that shame is a terrible motivator for health.  A culture that promotes shaming is anti-health.  And that’s what we’ve got on our hands right now.

So how does a parent combat that?

1)  Have open discussions that are not just about people and individual behavior, but about the cultural context.

When you see a news story that’s relevant, talk about it with your children.  Help them begin to see the underlying messages embedded within the story: the biases that might go unexamined even by the writer of the story.

There’s that expression: Fish can’t see the water they’re swimming in.  Cultural suppositions are the water in which we all swim.  Some of those suppositions are very damaging, especially the shame-inducing ones.

If we can help our children to see the water sooner, then they don’t have to simply ingest the messages; they can subvert them.  They can become more independent thinkers, which is a great antidote to other people’s narrow minded beliefs.

2)  Be a positive model.

That means that you don’t spout shaming remarks yourself.  Be aware of any criticism about your children’s appearance, especially, and the biases that exist behind them.  You don’t want to negate your child’s natural development, or make them think there’s only one right way to be, or to look.  They’ll get enough of those messages as they grow up.

If you have a partner in parenting, make sure that you’re both mindful of this.  If you’re divorced or separated and co-parenting, you still want to try to get on the same page about the messages that you’re sending.  Because if one parent is engaging in shaming behavior, the child is more likely to take that in than they are to take in the positivity on the other side.

If you are overweight, don’t make self-hating statements (because even if your child isn’t overweight, they will hear that and think that extra pounds are grounds for self-contempt.)  If you want your child to make healthier choices, then make them yourself, and be open about why you’re trying to change certain behaviors.

3)  Express confidence in your child.

Given the right tools, if a child learns to trust and believe in herself, she will generally make healthy choices.  She will be able to resist the zeitgeist when it is urging her in an unhealthy direction.

That’s not to say she won’t feel pain if she’s being bullied or shamed.  But pain can be a good motivator.  It can teach her to get a new group of friends.  It can encourage her to be a free thinker, or an advocate for others.  Pain truly can make us stronger, especially if the people around us buoy us up and believe that we have that strength within us.

Shame, on the other hand, is weakening.  It makes people want to hide.  It makes them want to shut down and isolate.  That’s why a parent needs to do all he or she can to mitigate the damage.

Support your child in her individuality.  That means deconstructing, withstanding, and combating certain cultural messages–not just through our words but through our examples.

Eating spaghetti image available from Shutterstock.

Fat Shaming, Slut Shaming: What All the Shaming Means for Your Daughters, and You


Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda (http://hollybrownmft.com/ ). She is also a novelist (http://hollybrownbooks.com/). Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."


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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). Fat Shaming, Slut Shaming: What All the Shaming Means for Your Daughters, and You. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 23, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/bonding-time/2014/09/fat-shaming-slut-shaming-what-all-the-shaming-means-for-your-daughters-and-you/

 

Last updated: 23 Sep 2014
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.