Body shaming: a new form of discrimination and bullying

Body shaming means literally “make one feel ashamed of his/her own bodyand is a real form of discrimination and bullying (or cyberbullying if virtual) since it aims to cause damage to someone who is unable to defend himself/herself. 

In essence it is the act of deriding or discriminating a person for her physical appearance, for the way he/she is showing it or for his/her physical condition. More generally it becomes an attacck to the person and his/her identitly.

Body shaming is inflicted everywhere: mass media, workplace, family, school and even among friends.

There are different types:

Fat shaming: to humiliate overweight people. There are still many cases in which fat is described as the worst thing that can happen to a man or a woman. In fact, a fat body is represented in one way only: clumsy, lazy, goofy, ridiculous. To be fat, after all, is considered a fault, a weakness and the only way to be truly accepted is to admit it, making a fool of yourself, making ironic jokes about yourself, because being fat is choice (according to society), therefore every aggression seems legitimate. Most people feel disgust and fear in front of a fat body.

Thin/skinny shaming: blaming people who are too thin by saying things like "bones to the dogs", "real women have curves". Men also suffer this kind of discrimination as well, especially if they don't have big muscles, being pointed out as weak or less virile.

Hair shaming: make someone ashamed of his/her hair or body-hairs, matching blond hair with stupidity, red hair to bad luck, afro-hair with neglect; or make unsolicited comments like “you should shave”, “you should remove your mustache, your eyebrows, your beard etc.”.

Dick shaming: to humilate men for the size of their penis, especially if smaller than the size acknowledged by the society as "real men size". Shape and lenght in the collective immagination are associated with strenght and power.

Slut shaming: to blame a woman or making her feel guilty for living her sexuality freely or who dresses up in a provocative/sexy way, calling her a "slut" or a "whore". 

Body shaming is psychological abuse that generates real traumas, both physical and mental: anorexia, bulimia, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and suicide to name but few.

According to a study carried out by Nutrimente Onlus on 4 thousands Italians between 18 and 55 years old, the majority of victims are teenagers between 18 and 21 (94% females e 65% males) and the effects of offences manifested by decrease in self-esteem (45%), an increase in the state of anxiety (43%) and a significant in the risk of developing improper eating habits.

The consequences are very serious because we aim at denigrating a person's identity and the body becomes a means of criticizing and shaming him/her.

Personality, talent and wit are put aside or not even taken into consideration. 

Amy Erdaman Farrell interestingly describes how between the end of the 19th and the beginning of 20th century the physical constitution was used as an important indicator, together with gender, ethnicity or sexuality, to measure a person's "suitability" to have the privileges of full citizenship. Scientists and intellectuals considered fat as one of the main signs of inferiority, using this characteristic as proof of the inferior state. It was believed that women were more prone to gain weight and this confirmed their ranking below men. In fact, exhorting women to be thin was also a way of not falling even further down the ladder of civilization.

Nowadays these beliefs leave their aftermath, just think of how the bodies of some politicians, athletes, actors/actresses and public figures are often used to tell their way to success or decay. Because some people believe success comes with weight loss.

Economic laws, capitalism, gender gap, patriarchy, the myth of beauty and this system of values ​​are all linked to this mentality which is extremely dysfunctional, because it impacts negatively on our physical and mental health, and decides who is worth more and some less.

To conclude, it is important to know that public insults on physical appearance turn into a crime of defamation when they are expressed in such a way that can offend the victim's reputation and, in particular, when they are expressed through social media. Therefore these forms of crime can be persecuted by law, through a lawsuit and can give rise to compensation for damage. 

Translated by Valeria Pasquali


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  • L'Autore

    Irene Ghirotto

    Irene Ghirotto è laureata in Educazione Sociale e Culturale presso l’Alma Mater Studiorum di Bologna.
    Nella sua tesi di laurea in “Empowerment e strategie di cittadinanza attiva” ha osservato come la lingua italiana sia usata in modo sessista e la necessità di modificarla per raggiungere una reale parità di genere, che è uno dei diritti umani essenziali. È un’attivista femminista intersezionale, ritiene che bisogna cambiare la cultura patriarcale in cui viviamo, poichè produce oppressioni e discriminazioni verso la maggior parte delle persone, togliendo loro non solo opportunità di migliorare le personali condizioni di vita ma anche i diritti umani di base che dovrebbero essere garantiti a chiunque. Per poter contribuire a questo cambiamento e andare verso un mondo più equo, ha fatto attività di volontariato presso una Casa delle Donne occupandosi della parte di comunicazione e sensibilizzazione sulle questioni di genere, inoltre, ha contribuito alla formazione di un Collettivo transfemminista LGBT+ che si occupa principalmente di informare e formare su svariate tematiche come: violenza sistemica e violenza sulle donne, identità di genere, decostruzione di stereotipi tossici.
    Pensa che per riuscire a creare un mondo più equo bisogna partite dalla scuola, dove introdurre l’educazione: sentimentale e sessuale; ai generi; anti-razzista, solo così si può capire il rispetto verso se stesse/i e le altre persone. In Mondo Internazionale ricopre il ruolo di autrice nell’area di Diritti Umani e in particolare nella sezione Domina.

    Irene Ghirotto graduated in Social and Cultural Education at the Alma Mater Studiorum in Bologna.
    In her thesis on "Empowerment and active citizenship strategies" she noted that the Italian language is used in a sexist way and the need to change it to achieve real gender equality, that is one of the essential human rights. She is an intersectional feminist activist, she believes that we need to change the patriarchal culture in which we live, because it produces oppression and discrimination against most people, taking away from them not only opportunities to improve personal living conditions but also basic human rights that should be guaranteed to anyone. To contribute to this change and move towards a more equitable world, has volunteered at a Women’s House dealing with the communication and awareness of gender issues, in addition, she has contributed to the formation of an LGBT+ Transfemminist Collective which is primarily concerned with informing and training on various topics such as: systemic violence and violence against women, gender identity, deconstruction of toxic stereotypes.
    She thinks that to succeed in creating a more equitable world it is necessary to start from school, where to introduce education: sentimental and sexual; gender; anti-racist, only in this way we can understand the respect towards ourself/s and other people. In the International World she holds the role of author in the area of Human Rights and in particular in the section Domina.


Sections Human Rights Health & Wellness


body shaming bullying discrimination violence human rights

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