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How Body Shaming Affects Mental Health

Expertly reviewed by Jessica Espanto, LPT, MA, RPsy · Psychology · In Touch Community Services

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated May 25, 2021

How Body Shaming Affects Mental Health

Day in and day out, we see and hear derogatory remarks about someone’s physical appearance. And while we witness people calling the bullies out for their humiliating comments, the negative impact of body shaming is still there. In this article, we’ll discuss how body shaming affects the victim’s mental health.

What is body shaming?

Body shaming is a form of bullying, an act or practice of humiliating someone because of their physical appearance.

Many people are bullied because of their size and shape; but please note that some experience body shaming due to their other physical features.

Body shaming happens in many ways, both directly and subtly. Examples of body shaming include:

  • Hinting that someone doesn’t “measure up” because of their physical appearance.
  • Criticizing someone by comparing their features with another person.
  • Judging someone by their style because it doesn’t suit them or it’s not “flattering.”

What are the effects of body shaming on mental health?

Although body shaming targets the person’s physical appearance, its effects extend mentally and emotionally. Here’s how body shaming affects the mental health of the victims:

It heighten stress levels and risk of psychiatric disorders

A study revealed that people who have perceived weight discrimination are 3.21 times more likely to report the highest level of perceived stress.

Moreover, the researchers concluded that participants who perceive discrimination concerning their weight are 2.41 times more likely to be diagnosed with more than 3 psychiatric disorders. These disorders may affect their mood (depression), anxiety, or substance use.

It may lead to social anxiety

Being publicly bullied increases a person’s insecurities. It results in low self-image and self-concept, which is affected both by how one perceives oneself and how other perceive them. In their eagerness to avoid embarrassing situations, people who experience body shaming may isolate themselves and refrain from engaging in social interactions.

how body shaming affects mental health

It increases depressive symptoms

Body shaming also affects the mental health since it increases depressive symptoms.

In a study titled, Weight Shame, Social Connection, and Depressive Symptoms in Late Adolescence, the researchers looked into the effects of body shame on the depressive levels of 1,443 first-year college students.

Using questionnaires, the investigators measured the participants’ openness to friendships and their embarrassment in public due to the fear of weight discrimination. The researchers also gathered data on the subjects’ overweight status and their depressive levels.

Results show that overweight and obese students who experience body shaming have higher depressive symptoms. They also have a hard time forming friendships, which further increases the risk of depression.

It might increase the risk of suicide

While we lack clinical research on the direct relationship between body shaming and suicide risks, some studies hint at a connection.

For instance, one research concluded that overweight teens or those who think that they are overweight are more likely to try suicide. Lead author, Monica Swahn, Ph.D., explains that young people feel very pressured when it comes to fitting in certain beauty ideals.

Additionally, let’s not forget that overweight and obese people have a higher risk of experiencing depression, a significant risk factor in attempting or committing suicide.

It might cause eating disorders and/or obesity

Lastly, studies show that body shaming affects mental health as it may cause eating disorders and obesity.

Studies show that overweight and obese people may overeat due to the stress of weight stigma or discrimination. Overeating results in either weight loss difficulties or increased obesity risk. For this reason, many experts believe that weight stigma fuels a “vicious cycle” wherein discrimination prevents weight loss and promotes further weight gain, which then brings on another round of weight discrimination.

In other cases, people who experience body shaming may develop eating disorders such as anorexia, which is the refusal to eat, or bulimia, wherein a person eats large amounts of food (binge) and then forces themselves to vomit later (purge).

Patients who suffer from an eating disorder often believe that controlling their food consumption may alter their appearance and prevent body shaming.

Causes of Eating Disorders: It’s More Than Just Extreme Dieting

What do you do if you have been body shamed?

Experts say that body shaming is a form of bullying. The best way to deal with it is to stick up for yourself in a healthy and positive way. To reduce the effects of body shaming on mental health, you can consider the following measures:

  • Don’t accept the body shaming comments internally; learn to accept and love your body and to be thankful for it.
  • Call the bullies out; let them know that their comments hurt and offend you.
  • Stand up for others who experience body shaming. For instance, if you see body shaming posts on social media, you can report or flag it for inappropriate content.
  • Build a support network with your family and friends or organizations on one’s body image and self-concept.
  • Share your feelings and experiences with figures of support.
  • If you want to lose weight, don’t let body shaming comments affect you. Remember that you’re trying to lose weight for yourself because you want to be healthier.

    Finally, if the effects of body shaming on mental health become too much for you to handle, reach out to a counselor or therapist who will guide you in managing your emotions.

    Learn more about Other Mental Health Issues here. 


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Expertly reviewed by

    Jessica Espanto, LPT, MA, RPsy

    Psychology · In Touch Community Services

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated May 25, 2021

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