The Harmful Effects of Body Shaming and Body Envy
It is only in recent years that I've come to terms with my body shape. It only took 60+ years to get here.
I suspect many of us in the bear community have experienced fat shaming in either overt or covert ways at some point in their lives.
Mine started at school, instigated by my peers and institutionalised by various physical education teachers.
I was a short fat kid who wasn't good at games. I'd be mocked by classmates and belittled by P.E teachers. I was seen as lazy because I couldn't run as fast or as far as others. Useless as a prospective team mate because I wasn't good at sports, leading to the ritual humiliation of having to wait to see which team got saddled with me at the beginning of a lesson.
It's only now, in retrospect, that I realise I was never going to be as fast, or have the stamina expected, because I didn't spend my very early school years playing run about games or team sports. I didn't build up the stamina. I was always going to fail when it came to the running, and team playing stuff, and it could only get worse.
This was in the late 50's and through the 60's till I left school. I can only shudder to think what it must be like for bigger kids today.
From when I was 15 and left school to 20 I wouldn't experience it again. If I had to get changed in a public environment, to go swimming for instance, it was never in front of a sneering or sniggering audience and always with my face to the nearest wall.
It was only when I realised I was gay and eventually found the 'safe haven' of the gay scene that I was confronted head on with fat shaming. "No Fats, Fems, or Freaks" was a very real thing.
I was once again made to feel ashamed of my body shape and scuttled off to the shadowy areas of the bar or club to avoid the often voiced scrutiny of the self appointed beautiful people who were always far to ready to judge.
Body envy started to compete with my body shame, a truly toxic combination. I'd oscillate between these two states for years.
Despite this I've been relatively lucky. The impact of body shaming for many men in our community is likely to have been much worse.
I've done a little reading around on the subject, here's what I've learned.
About Body Shaming
Body shaming, including fat shaming, is clearly a pervasive issue that is having a detrimental effect on our mental and physical health.
While much attention has been given to the impact of body shaming on women, it's crucial to acknowledge that men also face the harmful effects of body shaming.
Body shaming for many of us started in our school.
Being bullied based on body size, shape, or appearance can have serious consequences for a man's health as he grows to adulthood.
Here are some ways in which body shaming can negatively impact our health and well-being:
Poor Body Image leads to feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and self-worth. The development of negative perceptions about our own bodies leads to a distorted body image and a constant preoccupation with our weight and appearance.
Mental Health Issues can develop, such as depression, anxiety, and even eating disorders.
Experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
As a response to body shaming, we may engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as emotional eating, binge eating, or using substances as a way to cope with the emotional distress caused by bullying.
These behaviours can have detrimental effects on our physical health, leading to weight gain, poor nutrition, and other related health issues.
Body shaming can also lead to decreased physical activity levels in men.
Men who have been bullied for their body size or appearance may avoid physical activity out of fear of being judged or ridiculed. This can result in a sedentary lifestyle, which can contribute to weight gain, reduced cardiovascular health, and other health issues.
Body shaming, can also impact men's relationships, friendships, and social interactions.
Men who are bullied for their body size or appearance may feel self-conscious and may have difficulties forming meaningful connections with others. This can lead to social isolation, further reducing self-confidence and a decline in overall wellbeing.
It's important to note that body weight and size do not solely determine our health or worth. We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of our body size or shape.
About Body Envy
Body envy, or feeling dissatisfied with one's own body in comparison to others, can manifest in many ways for men. This can include feeling inadequate due to a lack of muscularity, height, or other physical attributes that are often associated with our perceived ideals. We may also compare ourselves to so called 'A' list men/bears in our community, leading to feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, and even depression or anxiety.
One of the negative health consequences of body envy is the development of unhealthy behaviors, such as excessive exercise or extreme dieting, in an attempt to achieve the desired body image.
This can result in physical health issues such as overuse injuries, hormonal imbalances, and nutrient deficiencies.
Body envy can also impact our mental health. Constantly comparing oneself to others and feeling inadequate can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. We may experience a decline in self-esteem and self-worth, as we feel we don't measure up. This can also negatively affect our relationships, as we may feel less confident in social situations or have difficulties forming close connections due to our insecurities about our appearance.
Our selfie obsessed culture, often magnified by the need to 'look right' on social media and hook up apps, makes it harder to avoid the shame and the envy.
The impact of body shaming and/or body envy can have a really negative impact on our health and wellbeing.
In theory, establishing a safe, non-judgemental space, The Bear Scene, should help address these issues.
In reality it has been my experience that body shaming still goes on "You're not muscly enough", You're not big enough", "You're too big" and with it body envy "I wish I had a hairy body like him", "I wish I had a big cock" etc. etc. etc.
We need to try and recognise that some in our community, like me, struggle with this stuff all the time.
We need to find a way to proactively address these issues. At the very least acknowledge they exist.
We need to promote opportunities to discuss issues like these and develop realistic ways to reduce shaming and increase awareness and support. In doing so we can improve the health and wellbeing of men in our community. If we don't do it who else will?