Body Shame

Body Shame

April 29, 2011

The human experience is fundamentally rooted in the body. Even though there are times when some might transcend their bodies (i.e. through imagination, guided imagery, visualization, etc.), there is no getting around the fact that nearly every day, we will experience life through our physical selves. A dilemma for many is a lack of esteem when it comes to their bodies. Certain cultures and family systems induce a great deal of shame in relationship to how our bodies look, feel, and smell. Since we live in our bodies, this brand of shame can inhibit us significantly.

Body shame puts people in the place of feeling entirely uncomfortable in their own skin. It can promote self loathing and, if not dealt with, it can be extremely hard on the one trying to live his / her daily life. Many of today’s eating disorders, body image distortions, self-harming and self-mutilating behaviors, unsafe and exploitative sexual acting out can be attributed to toxic shame around our physical selves.

Body shame has an effect on many different areas. Two are explored here. One area affected by body shame is that of image. People who are ashamed of their bodies will often have strong feelings about how they look. In an attempt to deal with this, some will do anything to keep up appearances. This might include attempts to control one’s appearance through the clothing, makeup and accessories they buy / wear, the food they restrict and/or the food they will eat and then eliminate. It may also lead some to have their bodies surgically altered. An excessively rigorous exercise program could also be part of one’s body image management routines.

Another area affected by body shame is our sexuality. In John Bradshaw’s seminal work, Healing the Shame that Binds You he writes,

"Perhaps no aspect of human activity has been as dysfunctionally shamed as much as our sexuality. Sexuality is the core of human selfhood. Our sex is not something we have or do, it is who we are. It’s the first thing we notice about each other. Sexuality is a basic fact in all created things. If we shut off this drive, we would annihilate the human race in 120 years. Our sexual energy (libido) is our unique incarnation of the life force itself. To have our sex drive shamed is to be shamed to the core." (p. 54)

Thus, when the core of human selfhood is bound up in shame, it becomes quite difficult to take delight in one of life’s most enjoyable and nurturing human experiences. When body image issues are bound up with shame in the area of one’s sexuality, it will be difficult to have a balanced experience in this area.

If you have body image issues, The Bridge to Recovery can help you break free from the shame that binds you. For more information, please give us a call at 877-866-8661 or visit our website at