This is how body shaming might literally be making you sick

With all the pressure in media to have the *perfect* body — being skinny, but not too skinny; being curvy, but in the all the right places; being taut, with no lumps, bumps, or stretch marks — it’s no wonder that women and girls everywhere are being conditioned to hate their bodies. For this reason and more, loving your body exactly how it is can seem easier said than done, but it turns out that body shaming can be dangerous not just mentally, but physically as well.

That’s right: Body shaming may literally be making you sick, according to two small studies conducted by Bucknell University researcher Jean Lamont.

In Lamont’s first study, she asked 177 college-aged women to rate the extent to which they agree or disagree about certain body-related statements, such as “I often feel vulnerable to sickness” and “When I’m not the size I think I should be, I feel ashamed.” Lamont used the subjects’ answers to determine three things: their amount of body shame, how well they evaluate their own health, and how much they respond to their bodies.

However, in order to make sure that her findings would hold up over time and wouldn’t be influenced by outside factors such as depression, smoking, or BMI, she conducted a second related study to control these variables. She tested 181 undergraduate women with the same questionnaire, except twice this time: once in September and once in December (when infectious diseases tend to increase).

When Lamont compiled her research, she found something deeply concerning that held up even when controlling for other factors: Women who felt more ashamed of their bodies had increased infections since their teenage years. The second study also showed that for those who had high levels of body shame, they had an increase in infections between September and December, suggesting that the body shame they were experiencing could have something to do with the illness.

So what’s the takeaway from this? As Lamont explains in the study, those who tend to have a lower view of their body and shame themselves for how they look may be less responsive to signals the body sends about health. . . meaning they’re not so great at evaluating their own health. It can also mean that women who don’t feel as confident about how they look are less inclined to take care of themselves as a result, believing they don’t deserve it.

Of course, feeling good about your body is a big feat if you’ve been struggling with body image issues for your entire life. But the fact remains that your body doesn’t exist for aesthetic purposes only; it allows you to live and breathe and do so many amazing things in this wonderful life. To hate your body for how it is may literally inhibit its ability to function, so take some time to look at yourself in the mirror and appreciate it for everything it is. . . doctor’s orders.

(Image via iStockPhoto.)

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