Beauty Redefined Blog

Body Shame on You


Shame on you!”

beautyredfined1Just the sound of that phrase feels awful, right? When someone says that phrase to you, it’s hard to ignore. But too many girls and women live in a constant state of shame that feels completely normal today — what scholars call “normative discontent.” Body shame and appearance anxiety are affecting us at epidemic rates. Shame, by definition, results in feelings of wanting to either hide or change the thing that doesn’t meet external or internal standards. For us, self-objectification takes place when we feel shame and hide ourselves or parts of ourselves from the world because we don’t meet the ideals we think we should, or we work to change the parts of us that just don’t cut it. These days, beginning with puberty, females are TWICE as likely to experience depression as males. This is directly associated with our objectifying culture, which leads us to evaluate and control our bodies in terms of our sexual desirability above all else.

Body shame, which manifests itself in the form of self-objectification, has been linked to disordered eating, unhealthy sexual practices (not saying “no” when you want to and not using condoms), plans for cosmetic surgery, diminished mental performance at school, diminished athletic performance, anxiety and depression, and sedentary lifestyles — and these impairments occur among all ethnicities and ages. Some of our favorite scholars, Fredrickson & Roberts (1997), state that “the habitual body monitoring encouraged by a sexually objectifying culture may reduce women’s quality of life.” We know this to be true.

At BR, we talk a lot about body shame – how prevalent it is today and how companies promote shame and anxiety in women as a marketing strategy. Shame is counterproductive to healthy choices. It is a debilitating and discouraging force that affects all of us negatively, especially in terms of body image. A 2010 National Physical Activity and Weight Loss Survey found that body size satisfaction had a significant effect on whether a person performed regular physical activity, regardless of the individual’s actual weight. So, those who were satisfied with the way their body looked – regardless of the ideals they did or did not meet – were more likely to engage in physical activity than those less satisfied. This is representative of a very real phenomenon among women who avoid physical activity because they feel “too fat to exercise” — THAT is shame in action, er, in inaction. In addition, too many women remain inactive because they believe they look too unattractive during/after workouts – too sweaty, too red, too jiggly, too frizzy of hair, too hard to get ready again after.

girlsinmirrorWomen consistently describe their feelings of body shame in terms of not being attractive enough for their husbands or partners, or to even get the attention of a romantic interest. Entire industries perpetuate and capitalize on those anxieties by representing women in terms of their appearances only, developing and diagnosing flaws, and then selling billions of $$$ in products and services to “fix” those flaws and thus, make us attractive, happy and valued. What they don’t advertise is that those products and services to improve your appearance almost never minimize body anxiety — they often increase it. Have you ever known someone (or been someone) who decided to get a breast augmentation in order to make her feel better about herself, or to help her feel less self-conscious about her body? Did it work? Or was she still not quite satisfied with the size/shape/look of her breasts? Or did that woman then find a new “flaw” to fixate on and do whatever it took to fix it? Chances are, that’s exactly what happened. The cosmetic surgery industry reports that as many as two-thirds of patients are repeat customers. Cosmetic procedures are rarely a one-time fix because they don’t get to the heart of the problem that has everything to do with your feelings about your body and very little to do with your body. 

What we want to focus on in this post is the importance of recognizing how shame manifests itself in your life with regard to your body image.

For some, it that little voice that says, “You suck. You already ruined your whole healthy eating plan for the day by eating that brownie. Now eat the whole pan.”

For some, it will be the multitude of excuses you have ready for anyone who invites you to a pool party, beach vacation or hot tub outing, all prompted by the fear of wearing a swimsuit, because people will surely be looking at your stomach or thighs and wondering how you dared show up looking that way.

For some, it is the choice to stay home with Netflix rather than be embarrassed about how sweaty, red-faced, jiggly, smelly or wet-haired you’ll be if you did that workout or played that sport with your friends.

For some, shame is what keeps you on the treadmill for 3 hours a day and restricting yourself to 1,000 calories/day in a desperate attempt to shed _ pounds or trim _ inches.

Shame is a cruel and powerful demotivator, especially with regard to health and happiness. It fuels overeating, poor nutrition choices, sedentary lifestyles, cosmetic surgery, isolation and pain. Shame is also a cruel and powerful motivator with regard to self-harm. It fuels disordered eating like bingeing, purging and starvation, as well as exercise bulimia, cutting, isolation and pain.

In Lexie’s dissertation study, 96 percent of her participants reported staying home from activities because they weren’t comfortable with the look of their bodies or faces. All but one reported they have refused to go swimming for fear of not meeting the standards of beauty they think they should in a swimsuit, even with (especially with) their loved ones. Many had plans for future cosmetic surgery. Do you see how hiding or changing parts of yourself might be your way of coping with shame for not meeting these unattainable ideals?

Once we identify and learn to recognize what shame looks like and sounds like in our own lives, we can work to reject its harmful motivating/demotivating influence. There’s no fighting back if we stay in this unquestioned, normalized state of body anxiety.

The making of bad health choices – or, alternatively, the avoiding of good choices — is very often motivated by shame. Whether it’s ditching out on fun, new, active experiences or engaging in unhealthy behaviors, we can’t let shame motivate us to self-harm or prevent us from living our lives – REALLY living our lives, not just living to be looked at. At the same time, we need to recognize that good choices can be triggered by feelings that might initially feel like guilt. Cognitive dissonance is different from shame. That uncomfortable feeling — such as a twinge of guilt — is your brain’s way of telling you that a new idea is conflicting with one of your pre-existing beliefs. If you recognize and respond to a feeling of cognitive dissonance, it might prompt you to make a healthier, more progressive change in your life. You might decide not to take non-FDA-approved diet pills you know are a bad idea — the ones that give you the jitters, dehydrate you and mess with your health. You might pick up a different magazine or take a show off your Hulu queue that promotes body anxiety and objectifies women.

You might believe that your reflection does not define your worth, but manipulative advertising and profit-driven media messages are engineered to convince you that idea is wrong — and instead convince you that improving your appearance is key to improving your desirability and happiness. We promote messages that stand in stark contrast to anything you will hear about women in any media outlet in order to create that cognitive dissonance that can remind women they are more than bodies to be looked at. It just so happens the truth is on our side, so it tends to resonate and stick with women who hear it. Believing that you are capable of much more than looking hot is a powerful foundation for us to build from — to make positive choices for our health, careers, relationships and every aspect of life.

Let’s stop letting body shame be a motivator for self-harm, a demotivator for self-improvement, or an unchallenged way of life. Let’s work to consciously recognize HOW shame manifests itself in our lives so we can reject the ways it negatively influences our choices. Need more help developing body image resilience that can help you overcome your self-consciousness and be more powerful than ever before? Learn how to recognize harmful ideals, redefine beauty and health, and resist what holds you back from happiness, health, and real empowerment with the Beauty Redefined Body Image Program for girls and women 14+. It is an online, anonymous therapeutic tool that can change your life, designed by Lexie & Lindsay Kite, with PhDs in body image and media.


  1. Jamie

    All I have to say is PLEASE STOP THE BOOB JOBS. They are so unnatural and upsetting. They make a woman’s proportions look all wrong. And they just make me feel like it’s super hard to be friends and relate to someone who’s done that. Visit to see the wide range of normal.

  2. Elise

    GREAT article. When talking about guilt it is also important to identify the times when women feel guilty for eating “bad” foods, what they think is too much food, not engaging what they think is enough physical activity, and other times that can fall under the facade of the definition of health perpetuated by the media and other aspects of society. After feelings of guilt arise, if one goes strait to either “Option 1: Accept the guilty feeling and modify your behavior accordingly to alleviate the guilt” or “Option 2: Disregard the guilty feeling and maintain the behavior” without first identifying why they feel guilty in the first place, the cycle of guilt and shame will continue.
    Again, great article, and thank you so much for all of the amazing work you are doing!

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined05-02-2013

      You are so right. I don’t think we quite emphasized that point enough so I just added a few more sentences to address this point. It’s right below the VS shopper guilt scenario. Thank you so much for your support and for your input!

  3. Larissa

    You two are seriously a breath of fresh air. I found this site fairly recently and I’m loving it. I’m a runner and write a Healthy Living Blog… a genre that, for all its strengths, is often focused on weight loss, slim for summer, bikini body, etc. The handful of posts I’ve written about body image, self–talk or beauty definition have been my most popular.

    While I’ll have reactions to things like Dove’s latest beauty sketches video, I usually don’t have the vocabulary to vocalize what I’m feeling. Sites like this help me so much! It’s so refreshing to read articles from people who have the education and research backgrounds so articulate what I sometimes struggle to grasp clearly.

    All that to say, keep up the amazing work! These are such important conversations to have and you do a great job educating your readers. Thank you!

  4. Vickie

    Thank you, Ladies, for your wondferful insight into the struggles of many women! When I try to express some of these ideas to my loved ones and friends, I get stares and lack of comprehension. You are providing all your readers with words to explain and concepts to address. Thank you!

  5. Elisabeth Dale (@TheBreastLife)
    Elisabeth Dale (@TheBreastLife)06-05-2013

    Love your website and your mission to empower women with information. i have to disagree with you regarding how women feel after “boob jobs.” I’m not sure if you are referring to augmentations only, but plenty of women are much happier after they’ve had breast reductions, lifts, and augmentations. The media tend to criticize women who choose “boob jobs” and focus only on the minority of women who invest in plastic surgery for the reasons you outline. But when it comes to women’s breasts, the only way you can regain lost or missing volume or reduce mass is through surgery. Please don’t assume that all women who choose to alter their breasts this way aren’t smart or well-informed and aren’t doing it for a host of very personal reasons. Most are older, married, have college educations, and children. (Also don’t assume that if you have such surgeries your breasts will magically stay that way — many women with breast reductions find their boobs get bigger, again, over time). ASPS statistics show there are more young boys undergoing breast reductions (for gynecomastia) than young girls in the same age group getting implants. I find it strange that the breast is the only body part women aren’t allowed to augment surgically (the assumption is that women do it for someone else and not themselves), unless of course its breast reconstruction after cancer, in which case all feeling and sensitivity are lost. But it also underscores how powerful breasts are in our society.

  6. Susan

    You articles are excellent but very long. This makes it difficult for a busy woman to find time to read them and can intimidate others who I might like to share the article with from reading it. Could you be more succinct? Or break the issue into smaller bite size pieces? It’s a great message that needs to get out there. Let’s make it accessible. :)

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined06-12-2013

      I was actually just re-reading over this one today and thinking it was a bit too long! I just deleted a few paragraphs we can use for another post and spend more time on. Thanks for the suggestion! We generally try to keep our posts quite a bit shorter than this.

  7. Chris Moore
    Chris Moore07-03-2013

    I enjoyed this article right up until the end. Then you ruined it by missing the message completely. You said, “Believing that you are capable of much more than looking hot is a powerful foundation for us to build from”. That is not correct. The message should be, “You are already hot and don’t let paid photoshop editors, catty women, creepy men, or anyone else tell you otherwise. And because you are already beautiful, we encourage you to use your body in ways that celebrate being beautifully made.” Please consider changing your message.

    Once women (and men) start to believe they are pretty and valuable, exactly as they currently are, the more empowered they become to positively live their lives and impact the lives of others.

    • Beauty Redefined
      Beauty Redefined07-03-2013

      Wow, we missed our own message completely? That’s quite a statement! Thanks for your comment, Chris, but we aren’t going to be changing our message! I think you’re a little confused on what the larger picture of our message is. Yes, we want women to believe they are beautiful, but even more importantly, we want women to know they are more than bodies to look at, that their beauty doesn’t define them, and that they are capable of MUCH more than looking hot. Your final sentence is true, and it’s exactly what this post (and all of our other posts) preach.

    • Heather B
      Heather B08-12-2013

      I think that being “hot” is overrated. Why is that even a goal? Objectively, we aren’t all hot, I’m certainly not, but does it matter? How I look is just one small piece of who I am!

      I love “You are capable of so much more than being looked at.” It’s wonderful!

      My daughter is twelve tomorrow. She and her friends call themselves “The Geek Girls” because they’re smart, they love Dr. Who, and they love science. She goes to school in her “Zombies Hate Fast Food” t-shirt with her TARDIS lunchbox and is so busy doing interesting things that she isn’t perpetually focused on her looks. She recently told me that she loves herself and she loves being a nerd and that she’s embracing who she is. It’s music to my ears!

      I think that this is possible partially because we don’t have a TV and I don’t get any fashion magazines. Her exposure to objectified women in media is extremely limited. And while my husband and I do tell her she’s beautiful she get’s far more praise from us when she works hard, when she has interesting ideas, tries new things, and when she uses her creativity.

      I say all of this to say that I don’t think we even need to think of ourselves in terms of “hot” or “not.” It’s a subjective label that makes women objects and creates obsessions over something irrelevant! I certainly won’t encourage my daughter to attempt to acquire the label “hot” and I certainly will never refer to her as such.

      There’s a whole world full of amazing things, with an endless supply of interesting thoughts to think, ways to be, things to create, and things to try. Why in heaven’s name do we care about being hot?

  8. Heather B
    Heather B08-12-2013

    I’m technically obese, I’m forty, and I LOVE to walk. I feel so much better physically and mentally after a walk and I’m proud of myself when I can keep a pretty good pace for five miles. Just starting to exercise makes positive changes in how I look at myself. I won’t say that my focus SHIFTS from how I look as much as it EXPANDS to include what my body is capable of doing with some effort.

    Anyway, maybe it’s because I’m forty now, I have a little of the wisdom that comes with age :-) but I’d just like to say that if it’s shame about how you look exercising that prevents you from doing it, know two things:

    1. The vast majority of people who notice you working out, would give you a thumbs up for doing something healthy regardless of how you look..

    2. I say “notice” because a pretty big percentage of people who might be inclined to observe you are personally wrestling with their own body image issues. You might be self-conscious, but no one is paying as much attention to you as you feel they are.

    I’m pretty darn pudgy but I still get out there and walk! I am definitely a little self-conscious but I am also very conscious of the great changes that are happening. It’s worth pushing past the discomfort to get to be benefits!

  9. Melissa

    You ladies are amazing. I can’t talk about shame without referring people to Brene Browns Ted Talk on shame and vulnerability. Shame can play a huge role in keeping us from what we were born to do…in all the arenas of life! Check it out if the topic of shame hits home for you. Life changing.

  10. Brianna

    I read a magazine interview of an amateur mountain biker who simply stated that she couldn’t hate her body when it was capable of getting her up the mountain and back. Since then I have used that logic to cut down my internal body shaming. I can’t hate a body that can bounce back after staying up all night studying. I can’t hate a body that can brave the winter cold to go for a walk. I can’t hate a body that can be a jungle gym for a passel of preschoolers. I can’t hate a body that can shovel the neighbor’s walkway.

  11. Lisa

    It’s true, the media showing people who exercise, such as the TV, are usually very skinny… maybe even a size 0. This is degrading because people come in many different sizes, even athletes. Maybe people think they are “losing weight” when they don’t eat and exercise, but it’s just water weight and you’ll eventually get back to your normal size again. This article is spot on about body shaming.

  12. A woman who wants to share her story
    A woman who wants to share her story07-27-2016

    Thank you so much for sharing this! All of these ideas resonate with me, and I’ve been reading through most of your articles and we need more of these positive, uplifting messages in a world saturated with putting us down to make money off of our insecurities.

    As women, we are constantly bombarded with images of what we should look like and people constantly judging us if our bodies don’t conform, which lead us to making all these comparisons to these coveted “perfect women” and not feeling good about who we are. But the real problem is that society has just one standard of beauty to represent all the diversity, ethnicity, races, colors, sizes, shapes of women everywhere. We feel like we will never measure up.

    Businesses, companies, the media, TV, magazines, and music videos make money off our body dissatisfaction and want to keep us that way, by always saying that we need to look a certain way to be loved, valued, given attention to. To be successful, we need to buy their products to feel better about ourselves, to fix our flaws, because we are unlovable unless we are perfect. This is untrue and unreal. This is an extremely harmful idea that society perpetuates.

    We are all humans and we deserve love for just existing as we are, we deserve to live happy and healthy lives without the constant pursuit of perfection, worrying about how we look, and obsessing about food and our bodies. We all have unique contributions to give to this world and we should be valued for our personalities, talents, and what we do to make the world a better place, instead of our appearance.

    It takes time to recover from the damage of these messages, but we can recover one step at a time, by being kinder to ourselves, by finding positive and fulfilling ways to get our wants and needs met, by supporting each-other, by living happy and healthy lives and most importantly, by knowing that we are more than our bodies and what we look like.

    A woman who wants to share her story