Conquer the Fear of Perceived Judgement and Improve Your Body Image
Have you ever not done something due to the fear of the judgement you might face? I’m raising my hand here! I’m betting that this has probably affected you too. It may be something you love doing too which really is the unfortunate part. I experienced this recently and it is something I’m still working through.
What is the Fear of Perceived Judgement?
What’s going on here? How could fear keep us from doing this thing we know is a great experience or exciting? Fear is a powerful emotion that can be useful at times (in order to save our lives), but in these circumstances, it is not helpful. In fact, it’s way more harmful and sneaky. The fear of judgement is real and it happens when society’s idea of the ideal person don’t match up with your reality. It also happens when we place a great deal of value in how others perceive us. Maybe you’re thinking that people will think or say something negative about you. You might fear being stared at or having people act a certain way around you. The thoughts about this judgement become so great that it can consume you. You’ll avoid any situation that would involve being around people and facing this potential judgment.
How I’ve Experienced This Fear
I recently experienced this fear of judgement due to a flare up in my acne (thanks hormones). Boy, did I have some negative thoughts popping into my head and still do. This is something I had not experienced for quite some time. It made me empathize with those who’ve expressed fear of judgement because of their body size. Due to the fear of judgement I’d face for having acne, I found myself wanting to stay in more and also avoiding having to talk to people. When I think about it, it makes me cringe a bit. I started spending more of my time reading about various acne treatments and the best methods for getting rid of it. It’s clearly a problem because this fear of judgement is starting to have an impact on my quality of life. Having a social life is an important part of my mental health and this influx of negative thoughts is also negatively affecting my mental health.
What I’m experiencing is just a fraction of what people in bigger bodies deal with. Weight stigma is the negative attitudes and beliefs about people in bigger bodies. It’s important to note that you don’t have to be in a “bigger body” to have internalized weight stigma, but people who are bigger experience weight stigma is a more prominent way. They have to deal with having a harder time finding their size clothing, finding comfortable seating in public places, and facing judgements and harsh criticism from health care professionals and family members to name a few. Research shows that when a person has a higher rate of internalized weight stigma (meaning they perceive themselves as the negative stereotype) it is correlated with poor health outcomes. “Being the target of weight stigma increases the risk of poor mental health outcomes,including depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and eating disorders. These associations happen regardless of BMI, so it’s unlikely that body weight itself is a cause. There’s growing evidence that weight stigma also is associated with increased disease and mortality risk, and internalized stigma appears to raise cardiometabolic risk the most” (1).
How to Conquer the Fear
If you too are experiencing negative body image or low self-esteem due to the pressures that our culture puts on us, know that there’s hope. Here are just a few tips to help you through this fear of judgement and cope in a healthy way.
- Practice Gratitude. Perhaps asking you to love your body unconditionally is a bit much, so instead, find at least one thing about your body, your personality or your life that you are happy with currently. Practicing this form of gratitude can help shift your perspective and help you appreciate even the smallest things in your life.
- Demand Respect. Just because you don’t fit into “the ideal”, does not mean you don’t deserve respect. Your body and mind deserve respect 100% of the time. I know it can be hard to advocate for yourself, but do it anyways. Don’t put up with the condescending talk from others or yourself. Respect your body by meeting your basic needs (eating, exercising, sleeping, having healthy relationships, socializing, etc.) on a daily basis. You will feel so much better because of it. Practice saying the affirmation "I am more than my body" to help with this.
- Surround Yourself with Positivity. Get rid of the toxic people in your life and choose to be around people who accept you for who you are! We all need these people in our lives and they are the ones who can help you get through any situation where you feel you might be judged. You can also unfollow social media accounts which make you feel inferior and choose to follow more accounts which help you feel more positive about your body.
Once you’ve worked on the first three tips, you may feel more ready to face the situation that you’ve been fearing. Know that you don’t have any control over how others think or what they say. You only have control over how your react.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” ~Ambrose Redmoon
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Source: The Health Impact of Weight Stigma By Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD. Today's Dietitian. January 2018 Issue Vol. 20, No. 1, P. 24
Photo above is by Drop the Label Movement on Unsplash