A new study has revealed “shocking” data: girls don’t respond well to being called “fat.” Granted, those are my words, but that’s essentially what psychologists from UCLA had to say about the conclusions of their study on body shaming.
Body shaming – the act of mocking or humiliating someone through critical comments about their body shape or size – is a subject of growing concern…probably due to its growing frequency. Reports have found that 94% of teen girls and 64% of teen boys have experienced “some level of ridicule for the way they look.” Those numbers are high, but sadly, they’re probably accurate. In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a cruel world. Even iconic celebrities (who many believe are perfect specimens of the human physique) have felt the sting of body shaming.
The consequences of body shaming can vary like the insults themselves…and last much longer than expected. Jeffrey Hunger, one of the lead researchers at UCLA explains, “How we talk about weight – especially with young girls – can have really negative effects on mental and physical health.” Some of those “effects” include the possibility of binge eating, unhealthy weight control measures (vomiting or laxatives or skipping meals altogether), and increased dieting. In other words, many kids who experience body shaming pick up really bad habits as a coping mechanism that negatively affect them later in life.
You gotta ask, “Who would be cruel enough to subject teens to this kind of torture?”
As the title of this article says, the answer may surprise you.
This related study (conducted on men and women) by Fit Rated found that 90% of adults have also been body shamed. While media is guilty of spreading unrealistic and graphically-altered images of an “ideal body” or an “ideal face,” the list of those who frequently commit body shaming are those we know personally…and moms top the list.
Yep, according to the report, 63% of women (and 31% of men) had been wounded by words from their mothers. 62% of women (and 47% of men) had been stung by friends. Significant others were also among the culprits; 50% of ladies experienced it from their partners (and so had 23% of guys). Fathers, siblings, co-workers, bosses, and employees were also on the list of usual suspects.
Heck, so were grandmas! 35% of women (and 17% of men) have been hurt by their sweet old grannies.
Speaking the Truth in Love
I’m willing to assume that at least some of the body shaming done by family members and/or close friends wasn’t intended as such, but let this data be a learning lesson to all of us. We need to speak the truth to each other – especially our kids – but we need to speak it in love. Since parents and youth workers have so much influence in the lives of teenagers, our voices need to be the clearest and most frequent ones they hear. If a young person in your life is experiencing body shaming, consider these two tips.
- Talk about God-given value In our world, value is attached to temporal beauty. So many teens, especially young girls, seek identity and definition through the perfect selfie, in the perfect clothes, with the perfect filter. Help them think more deeply about their self-worth by reminding them that God has assigned value to each of us that supersedes our appearance (see 1 Samuel 16:7). I suggested a similar strategy in our latest article about self-cyberbullying. If we want the truth about ourselves, we must go to God’s Word. God doesn’t just tell the truth, He IS the truth (John 14:6).
- Talk about real solutions to problems. No, this isn’t contradictory to point #1, but the reality is, as we honestly study ourselves in the light of God’s Word, we’ll inevitably uncover personal changes that need to be made. Maybe poor eating habits have led to a few extra pounds. Perhaps a lack of regular exercise has led to weakness. Maybe a little more discipline is required in wardrobe selection or personal hygiene. Whatever the case may be, try to lovingly offer up suggestions that are both sustainable (think maintainable) and enjoyable (because it leads to positive transformation). And if you need to make some changes yourself, make sure to do so in order to lead by example.
Our kids hear a lot of voices, a lot of messages. The vast majority of them are untrue, unloving, and unkind. Make sure you know who’s in dialogue with your teen, what’s being said, and what’s being felt. That way, you know how to react with healthy, godly care.
David R. Smith
David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.