Thanks to Photoshop and Instagram filters, people are bombarded with unrealistic images of physical perfection every day. Some might even say the trend is sickening — but they may not realize just how true that statement really is. New Bucknell University research suggests that experiencing body shame can actually make women physically ill more often.
"Western body ideals for women contain prescriptions for outward appearance, such as thinness or youth, as well as proscriptions for concealing natural body functions, including sweating, body odor and menstruation," said Bucknell University Professor Jean Lamont, psychology.
Lamont was lead researcher on "Trait body shame predicts health outcomes in college women: A longitudinal investigation," published in the July issue of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
"Because women's bodies are often evaluated against these ideals, and meeting them is important for women's social and economic outcomes, women may self-objectify or internalize these body ideals and feel ashamed if they don't meet them," she said.
In two studies, women who feel more ashamed of their bodies held more negative attitudes toward their bodies' natural functions and in turn experienced more infections, such as the flu and bronchitis. They also self-rated their health as poorer than women with low body shame.
In one of the studies, body shame also predicted increased symptoms of illness such as diarrhea, nausea, heartburn, headaches, abdominal, back, muscle and joint pain.
"Feeling ashamed of what our bodies do naturally may actually lead to poor physical health outcomes," Lamont said. "This suggests that psychological health issues may only be part of the negative impacts that body shame can have on our well-being. This is yet more evidence that the pressures young women face may hinder their potential for healthy living."