We all know that a nasty comment about our appearance can stick in our heads for the rest of the day… or the week… and sometimes the month. But have you ever considered where those nasty comments go afterward? As it turns out, these words can manifest themselves into serious health issues like cardiovascular and metabolic disease, according to research conducted by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Wait a minute — words can cause diseases?
Yep. Let’s walk through this.
Body shaming, something we’ve all experienced in one way or another, can be defined as the potentially destructive commentary on one’s body shape or size. Just like any aspect of today’s communication, body shaming takes many forms, including speaking to someone directly about their appearance, speaking about someone’s weight behind their back or even developing a loop of negative internal thoughts regarding your own body image. It can be a comparison of two friends or celebrities or a comparison of your appearance at different points of your life. Tweets, retweets, posts, likes — these can all be used to body-shame as well.
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But think about the ridiculous weight-related stereotypes that are incessantly pushed in our direction by these mediums: being skinny somehow equates to beauty, intelligence and overall having-your-shit-together, while being overweight equates with laziness, unhealthiness and unattractiveness.
These ever-present negative ideas begin to seep deeper into a person who is battling obesity. In other words, those who are met with the negative stereotypes begin to experience depression along with a degree of weight bias internalization, which occurs as obese individuals believe that they themselves align with the negative stereotypes.
So basically, making someone feel guilty for their appearance really impacts their self-esteem. That shouldn’t be surprising.
But this research suggests a little bit more is going on here. During the study, 159 adults battling obesity were subjected to both mental and physical health examinations. Those who were categorized as having a “high” weight bias internalization were three times more likely to have metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that heighten your chances for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, and six times more likely to have high triglycerides as compared to participants with “low” internalization. So yes, these results are a big deal.
What’s the verdict? Words kill. And it’s not a filter that our brains need, but rather a complete reconfiguration.
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“Health care providers, the media, and the general public should be aware that blaming and shaming patients with obesity is not an effective tool for promoting weight loss, and it may in fact contribute to poor health if patients internalize these prejudicial messages,” co-author of the study Tom Wadden, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and psychiatry and director of Penn’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders told ScienceDaily.
Curvy model and girl crush of the century Ashley Graham is by far a leader in this department. Her latest Instagram post skipped her typical glamour, fashion and sexiness. Instead, the photo simply displayed her lower body — and still rocked our world.
She captioned her photo, “I workout. I do my best to eat well. I love the skin I’m in. And I’m not ashamed of a few lumps, bumps or cellulite.. and you shouldn’t be either.#beautybeyondsize #lovetheskinyourein”
Doesn’t that make you feel good? Positive changes in how we act and react to body images are necessary for our health. No, we’re not going to unfollow our favorite skinny-mini celebrities or absolutely love when we see a picture of ourselves at a terrible angle. But we can make a conscious effort to remind ourselves that body perfection isn’t a requirement for beauty, love, intelligence or basically anything else we want to achieve. And just like that, the detangling of fat-shaming stereotypes begins.
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As Graham and other leading women in the media’s spotlight do their share of de-shaming, the rest of us must do the same. Doctors need to explore the genetic, biological and environmental aspects of obesity with their patients. Friends and family need to encourage and support each other rather than make assumptions about those who look different from them. And women as a whole need to realize that little interactions with ourselves and others add up — lives are literally on the line here.
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