By Izzy Kalman, MS, Nationally Certified School Psychologist
Perhaps the most common form of bullying is what’s become known as “body shaming.” This, obviously, involves making fun of our bodily imperfections or differences, with insults like fatso, Dumbo, four-eyes, pizza-face, ginger, giraffe, midget, or just plain ugly. There is no end to the kinds of insults that can be made about our bodies.
It is especially easy to get upset by such insults because we tend to be sensitive about our bodies. We all want to look good and to be seen as perfect. Thus, when people make fun of things that we, ourselves, have difficulty accepting, we feel hurt and humiliated. It’s bad enough that we badger ourselves about what’s “wrong” with our bodies. We hope that others don’t notice, and we hate it when they bring it out into the open with an insult.
To counter this, anti-bullying organizations try to bring awareness about how harmful body shaming is and encourage people not to do it. They also try to encourage us to love our bodies as they are so that we will be able to withstand insults, by thinking, “I don’t care what you say about my body. I think it’s perfect just the way it is.”
Unfortunately, these efforts are having, at best, only a minor effect. Body-shaming continues to be a common form of bullying, and kids continue to be upset when it happens to them.
Why are these efforts to put a stop to body-shaming not succeeding? One reason is that when anti-bullying authorities inform us that body-shaming is terribly harmful, we are getting the message that we should get upset by body shaming. Otherwise, why is it such a terrible thing to do to people?
Secondly, if we are truly unhappy about our body, we are not likely to change our mind just because someone tells us to love it as it is. We simply see it as a well-intentioned effort to make us feel better about ourselves, but deep down we may not believe it.
Does this mean there is nothing we can do to stop being body-shamed? Not at all! In fact, it is essentially effortless to accomplish this feat.
The secret is to understand why we are body-shamed. We think that we’re being insulted because we are overweight, red-haired, big-eared, wear glasses, etc. We think we are being bullied because of our bodily differences.
But this is a major error! We think this because our body is what’s being made fun of. But it’s not why we’re being made fun of.
So, what’s the real reason we are being body-shamed? It’s because we get upset when we’re called fatso or four-eyes or midget or ginger or whatever! If we didn’t get upset, we wouldn’t be picked on!
I may be self-critical because of a bodily difference or imperfection. Let’s say I’m overweight and I don’t like it. I can consider whether I want to try to do something to be skinnier. Maybe I’ll succeed, and maybe I won’t. But that’s a separate problem from being bullied about it. Plus, there may be some conditions that are impossible to change. For instance, if I am two feet taller than people my age, what can I do – cut off my legs at the knee so I’ll be shorter? Or a more common tactic – slouching so I won’t appear so tall? I’m just making a bigger problem for myself by slouching. Now not only do I look tall, I look like a banana!
So, I may not be able to change my body so it won’t be made fun of, but I don’t have to. I can quickly and easily stop people from repeatedly insulting me, regardless of what my body is like. Here are some examples.
Insulter: You look like a giraffe!
Me: Yes, I can see the ocean from here!
Insulter: You are so fat, you look like a hippopotamus!
Me: You are so skinny! That’s great!
Insulter: Hey pimple-face! You look like a pizza!
Me: You have such great skin! You should be a model!
Insulter: Your ears are so big!
Me: Yes, I use them to fly with!
Insulter: Your hair is so red!
Me: Your hair is so brown!
Insulter: You are so ugly!
Me: And you are so handsome/beautiful!
With such responses, people will feel foolish picking on you and will quickly stop. They may also like you better because you are being nice to them or making them laugh. And they’ll respect you more because you are always a winner.
So, if you’re being body shamed, stop thinking it’s because there’s something wrong with your body. Every one of us, no matter how beautiful or perfect, has things about us that could be made fun of. If we are repeatedly made fun of by the same people, it’s because we get upset about it!
For a more in-depth discussion of body shaming, please read the following article:
They Ridiculed My Big Ears, So I Killed Them