Lady Gaga’s recent Super Bowl performance garnered a lot of comments on social media thanks to her outfits, her vocal range and that jump off the stadium.
But the February show also lit up Twitter for a far less entertaining reason: at one point in the show, her stomach appeared less-than-concave.
Gaga addressed the body shaming herself, but it’s a shame she felt a need to do this at all, much less that it even happened in the first place. But body shaming is so pervasive that you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who hasn’t experienced it — or done it to herself.
These negative, critical comments about appearance do have a wider effect on us.
A study published last year in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that women who feel ashamed of how their bodies look also feel shame about bodily functions like menstruation, sweating, and eating — and don’t provide the care their bodies need as a result. The same researcher found that women with poor body image also had poorer health, and a separate British study found that body shaming doesn’t motivate people to exercise or lose weight.
So, we know body shaming is harmful and unkind. But how do we stop it? Here are some strategies from health experts and celebrities who’ve had to shut down the haters:
1. “You’d be so pretty if you lost a few pounds”
People may think they’re being encouraging by telling you how good you would look if only you lost some weight, but all that does is broadcast that they don’t think you look good as you are — and that you should do something about it. Remind yourself that you are valuable and attractive now, whatever your weight, and that you only have to try to change what that weight is if you want to.
2. “You lost/gained weight, you look great!”
Always remember that there are a lot of reasons why someone might lose or gain weight that have nothing to do with a desire to do so — and might actually stem from a health problem like an eating disorder or chronic illness. Demi Lovato gained weight a few years ago when she finished treatment for an eating disorder, making online comments about the weight gain even more harmful considering how vulnerable patients can be when they are early in their treatment.
3. “Don’t worry, you’ll get your pre-pregnancy body back”
Many women feel a lot of internal and external pressure to quickly lose any weight gained during pregnancy. Kim Kardashian was body shamed on magazine covers during her pregnancies with her two children, and then got more of the same afterwards. But she was open about the changes her body—and every body—experienced during and after pregnancy, and being willing to admit the best and worst of the experience can help you deal with it.
4. Your reply: “What an odd thing to say”
Some people might engage in body shaming without realizing it. Other people know exactly what they’re doing and just trust that you won’t call them out on their passive-aggressive statements. Confronting them directly isn’t likely to work because they’ll just play innocent. That’s when it’s time to bring out the classic, “What an odd thing to say” response, which is best followed with silence and a neutral expression. You might not change their hearts, but you’ll get the satisfaction of watching them squirm.
Don’t participate in it:
Don’t just shut down body shaming when it’s directed at you — make it clear you won’t accept it directed at anyone else either. When you overhear body shaming from other people, don’t just stay out of it. Make it clear you don’t find it acceptable and don’t want to hear it. You might not change their minds but you probably won’t have to listen to it anymore.
Listen to your own words, too:
Body shaming doesn’t just come from outside. Sometimes we are cruelest to ourselves, and these words can be just as hurtful as those that come from other people. Erika Vargas of Walden Eating Disorders Treatment suggests you make a habit of complimenting your body and your appearance, even if it feels forced or silly at first. Research has shown that self-affirmations can actually work to shift your thinking. Changing your inner monologue can make it easier to stand up for yourself when the negative talk comes from someone else.
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