Body Shaming and Substance Use Among Young People

Did you know that your child might have been harmed by body-shaming messages before they resorted to drugs and alcohol? Are you aware of how body shaming can damage a young person’s self-esteem and mental health? Although body-shaming refers to a person’s physical appearance, it always negatively impacts one’s mental health.

Teens and young adults often succumb to the harmful messages of body shaming, which then leads to depression, anxiety, and substance use. To understand the relationship between these two, you need to look deeper into the psychological risks behind body shaming.

What Risks Does Body-Shaming Pose?

Body shaming refers to how peer groups or media portrayals express criticism or disapproval about a person’s body shape or size by resorting to humiliating comments. Such negative comments may refer to one’s clothing choices, makeup, or hairstyle. Unfortunately, this is very common in today’s media-saturated world for young people, especially teenage girls. It is a powerful form of verbal bullying that is happening all around us.

Some adverse effects on young people’s physical and mental health include eating disorders, over-dieting, depression, and social anxiety. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), around 65% of people with eating disorders report having been verbally bullied or shamed. Shame is a powerful negative emotion about the self, leading to feelings of inferiority and powerlessness. It often clings to the gap between an ideal self-image and the real self. People who have been body-shamed may develop a kind of self-loathing, which is detrimental to the overall mental health state.

Shame is also a common human emotion. Even young children may display shame by feeling embarrassed. Usually, they grow emotionally by coping with this negative feeling without polarizing their self-image. During puberty, changes in the body and identity may also bring another layer of confusion in terms of self-evaluation and shame. Many adolescents are prone to compare themselves negatively to others, which leads to a feeling of shame. When body shaming — either imposed by others or internalized by oneself — is intensified, one may feel the need to self-medicate by using alcohol and drugs.

The Relationship Between Shame and Substance Use

Heightened shame may increase one’s vulnerability to addictive behaviors, such as binge-eating, risky sexual behaviors, and substance use. This is true both among adults and adolescents. For the latter group, body shaming can lead to low self-esteem, social anxiety, and depression. Research shows that negative body image and feelings of shame may increase teens’ use of tobacco and alcohol. These risk-taking behaviors may serve as a gateway for more substance use and addiction.

Parents should be watchful of how body-shaming messages impact teenage girls. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), appearance-related teasing is highly correlated with substance use (alcohol and marijuana) for early adolescent girls. As researchers in this study point out, body shaming may increase the risk of substance use because the former is a form of emotional abuse and stigmatization. Because the broader culture in society is encouraging it, body shaming tends to cause significant emotional damage to young people.

How to Stop Body Shaming

Parents can talk about the topic of body image with their teenagers. More than other age groups, teens tend to value and believe what other people think about them. Parents can also involve extended family members, such as a trusted uncle or aunt, to initiate an informal chat about this topic. If your teen child has been body-shamed, there are some proactive steps you can take to help alleviate the harmful effects:

  • Explain to your teen child that you were also once in this place. Express empathy for the emotional pain body-shaming causes. Do not minimize its harm.
  • Help your teen child see themselves through the lens of character and personality instead of appearances. Share how you have matured in this respect.
  • Discuss beauty and its subjective, self-determination aspects (beauty is determined by you and how you look at things). Teach your teen child to distinguish between superficial looks and the essence of life — wholeness, healthy relationships, and love among family and friends.
  • Be a role model in how you evaluate your own attitude toward your body. Try not to reinforce the body-image-obsessed narratives at home. Practice positive affirmation and self-compassion and lead your teen child by example.
  • Coach your teen child to identify body shaming as a form of verbal bullying, whether it happens offline or online.

With early intervention and careful guidance, your teen child can most likely recover from the harmful effects of body shaming once they regain a healthy self-image. This journey may mature a teenager emotionally and prepare them for similar challenges in life. 

Body shaming can have harmful effects on your mental health and increase your risk for substance use. However, you do not need to rely on drugs and alcohol to make yourself feel better. At South Florida Intervention, we know how to help you restore a healthy self-image and free yourself from substance addiction. The caring staff at South Florida Intervention believes in your own power of self-affirmation. Our professionally trained interventionists know that shame and poor self-image can be barriers to your sobriety and long-term recovery. We offer a holistic approach to help you regain confidence and command over life. We have a good track record of helping many people to recover from both harmful body image and substance addiction. You will benefit from our recovery coaching, and we also offer a range of services, including parent coaching, sober escort, and detailed case management. Call us at (202) 390-2273 today.