Body Shame Makes Women Sick

It’s well documented that body shame promotes poor psychological health outcomes, such as depression and eating disorders, as women struggle to meet societal ideals of physical appearance and behavior.

But new research from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa., suggests that those same shameful feelings about your body can actually make you 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 Jean M. Lamont, visiting assistant professor of psychology and lead researcher of Trait body shame predicts health outcomes in college women: A longitudinal investigationwhich was 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.”

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, trait 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 added. “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.”

Full copies of the research can be made available upon request. Dick Jones Communications helps Bucknell University with some of its media affairs.

Source Contact Information

Bucknell University
Visiting Asst. Professor of Psychology
570-577-2448 (office)