Unfortunately, body shame isn’t a topic we often hear about. I’ve actually wanted to share information on this topic with Weightless readers ever since I addressed body shame in a guest post.
That’s why I’m pleased to present my interview with Carolyn Jones, RN, LPC, CEDS, director of nursing at the Eating Recovery Center.
Below, she provides insight into what body shame is, its causes and consequences, how individuals can overcome body shame and much more.
Q: What usually causes people to experience body shame or to feel disconnected from their bodies?
A: First of all, it is very important to understand the difference between shame and guilt as it pertains to body image. Shame is very different from feelings of guilt; shame is about the whole person (their whole being) feeling as though they are inadequate; where as guilt is simply feeling bad about a behavior, which is something that can be changed. Additionally, body shame is a much deeper issue than mere negative body image.
When an individual begins experiencing body shame, it stems from outside influences and eventually is integrated on a deeper level within a person. There are various influences on the development of body shame such as a history of trauma (physical or sexual) where an individual may feel as though his or her body betrayed him or her into letting these things happen. Another influence would be a chronic medical illness that may affect the way someone’s body looks or functions. For example, lupus can elicit a skin rash that may trigger a negative body image and consequently, body shame.
Other influences on the development of body shame can be messages from friends or family, such as teasing. Messages and images from the media (TV, movies, the Internet, magazines, billboards) may lead individuals to compare themselves to images that are not even realistic due to retouching. Also, an individual’s genetics or culture may play a role in body shame, depending on what body shapes or types are passed along through genetics and what body types are valued within his or her culture or peer groups.
Q: What are the consequences of feeling ashamed of your body or feeling like it’s a stranger?
A: If someone feels ashamed of his or her body, it can lead to isolation, self-harm, a negative self-esteem, a decreased ability to cope and mood disorders.
Someone who is dealing with body shame often does not want to be around other people, go out in public or be seen in general. Body shame can also lead to self-harm through alcohol abuse, disordered eating behaviors or other means of attempting to numb the pain. It goes without saying that an individual dealing with body shame will have negative self-esteem due to his or her negative body image.
Finally, someone experiencing body shame will have a difficult time coping with life’s happenings, identifying his or her personal goals and values, and making life decisions that align with those goals and values. This body shame may also maintain mood disorders.
Q: What are the most effective ways we can reconnect to our bodies and overcome the shame?
A: There are a variety of treatment modalities that individuals or patients dealing with body shame can do to reconnect with their body and appreciate it over time.
Movement therapy and yoga, journaling, nurturing the body, and simply educating oneself about the body image recovery process can all be valuable ways to overcome body shame and start the reconnection process. It is also equally important to identify and accept the feelings that come up related to a person’s body. It is important to learn that these feelings are not good, bad, right or wrong, just simply feelings.
For eating disorder patients, body image is one of the hardest things – and often the last – to change. Through nurturing activities, such as getting pedicures, putting lotion on, giving yourself positive messages and understanding that what your body does for you is much more important than how it looks, a true connection – or reconnection – with your body can be made.
Q: I’ve read that yoga can be very helpful in connecting to one’s body because it provides a safe way to feel your body, learn self-acceptance and soothe anxiety. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I think that yoga and movement therapies in general can be a valuable asset for individuals dealing with body shame and/or a negative body image.
With yoga, you are very much in the moment. It teaches mindfulness, how to focus on breathing and how to quiet the thoughts in this busy society we live in. Yoga helps individuals pay attention to the body in ways other than visually.
Q: Are there other ways we can move our bodies to experience the above benefits?
A: Dance is another form of movement therapy that can help individuals reconnect with their bodies and see and understand just what their bodies are capable of. Additionally, allowing patients to focus on strength, stamina and flexibility through any type of sporting activity can help in the reconnection process.
Being mindful and reconnecting with our bodies can be an everyday activity, such as using the stairs or taking a walk down the street for a break. Simple activities each day allow individuals to be more active and mindful.
Q: What are the warning signs that it’s time to seek help for a negative body image or body shame?
A: A frequently seen warning sign would be any sort of obsessive-compulsive behaviors surrounding negative body image. For example, constantly looking in mirrors or “body checking” (i.e. rituals such as checking for hip bones, measuring the circumference of the wrists). These obsessive-compulsive behaviors become increasingly worrisome if they interfere with an individual reaching his or her goals, living according to his or her life’s values, building relationships or achieving academic or career aspirations.
The larger the percentage of time an individual spends thinking and obsessing over body image, shape and size, the more they risk developing a negative body image and potentially body shame.
Other possible warning signs are listed above under question number two.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about body image, body shame or a related topic?
A: The good news is that your relationship with your body can be changed to a neutral or positive one with time, perseverance and actively engaging in treatment modalities to improve this relationship.
Thanks so much to Carolyn for sharing her insight with us!
Have you ever experienced body shame? How are you learning to overcome it? Or what about body shame has been the most challenging to overcome?