Having a negative body image is, sadly, pretty common, but its physical effects—including weight gain, infections, and illness—were only just discovered
In a land where tan, thin, young, thin, and rich are the beauty ideal (did we mention thin?), it's no surprise that body shaming has practically become a national sport. Whether we're gossiping about a celebrity's weight gain on the internet, delighting in a former head cheerleader's frumpy current look on Facebook, or frowning in the mirror at our own small butt and lips (the two places no one wants to be skinny), shaming has become a part of every day life. (Has Body Image Become Oppressive? A Look at the Backlash Against Beauty.) And while it clearly isn't helping us mentally, it turns out a poor body image could be harming us physically too. People who feel ashamed about their bodies also have poorer overall health—regardless of their actual weight, according to a new pair of studies published together in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
To look into this destructive mind-body connection, head researcher Jean Lamont, Ph.D., theorized that women who feel ashamed that their bodies don't match the ideal also feel ashamed of natural bodily functions like menstruating, sweating, and eating. This then leads women to deny their bodies normal care for these things, making themselves sick in the process. Basically, Lamont is saying that if you don't like your body then you won't want to take care of it—a sad state that many of us have experienced firsthand. Have you ever skipped the gym because you thought you were too fat to be there? Or binged on junk food because you hate what you see in the mirror? (See 5 Common Body Goals That Are Unrealistic.)
But which came first? Do women feel bad about their bodies and then get sick or do they get sick which then tanks their self-esteem? To answer this, Lamont surveyed over 300 young women in the course of two studies. She discovered that those who reported the highest amount of body shame had infections most often, lower self-rated health, and more symptoms of illness, like diarrhea and headaches. And this held true from the time the women were teenagers, regardless of their actual weight, leading Lamont to conclude that it was the body shame causing the poor physical health.
And know this: Body shaming won't help you lose weight either. A separate British study last year found that even though people say that humiliating themselves or others will spur weight loss, it actually has the opposite effect, making the target gain weight instead. According to the researchers, people who were shamed for their weight gained about three and a half more pounds than people who said their weight received no attention.
It's time to put an end to body hate. Not only will it not help you achieve your weight loss goals but it could be hurting your overall health. You may not look like Gisele Bündchen, but in the end there's only one person who really does—and that's Gisele Bündchen. All of us are beautiful in our own unique way but, even more importantly, body image is about so much more than physical appearance. We all have beautiful gifts that have nothing to do with the way we look—and those are the things we should be thinking about when we look in the mirror. (Speaking of putting an end to body shaming, here are 20 Celebrity Bodies We Need to Stop Talking About.)