PSYCHOLOGICAL IMPLICATION OF BODY SHAMING ON MENTAL HEALTH OF UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS OF NASARAWA STATE UNIVERSITY, KEFFI
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1.1 Background to the Study
Whatever it is that we are doing, we certainly do it with our bodies. From the moment we wake, we are consciously or sub-consciously relying on our body. We may look in the mirror and notice changes in our body, and for some of us, even the most minor changes may impact upon how we feel about ourselves. The image that we have of our bodies’ affects our experience of our bodies in everyday life (Nettleton and Watson, 2002).
In today’s 21st Century, where social media is easily accessible to all kinds of age and people, great emphasis on idealized body, skin, and type can be observed. With various beauty blogs and pages come consequences that can lead to degraded mental health, as one of the major problems pertaining to our society is body shaming. Body shaming is a form of bullying that mainly targets the physical parts of someone’s body; physical aspects including weight, shape, hairstyle, clothing choices, makeup, or size; humiliating and making negative statements about someone’s body, or criticizing your own body for its appearance. In a study conducted on young adults, it was seen that individuals who experience feelings of shame towards their own body exhibit depressive symptoms associated with self-criticizing behavior, which can also lead to binge eating, acting as a social comforter to the person (Duarte, Gouveia and Ferreira, 2014).
Body shaming can now be found in young adults widely as with the growing trends of diets, exercise, and fashion portrayed by celebrities, people who drift apart from these trends are criticized or humiliated for the same. We can see people shaming both men and women nowadays for their body type. In the case of women, they are mostly criticized or humiliated for their weight by either being called ‘Fat’ or ‘Too thin’. Men view their body in terms of muscularity, lean structure, hair and torso rather than looking at it from a holistic perspective and this desirability of a muscular structure can be seen in many men. Men’s self esteem is also found to be correlated with their features comprehending to face, hair and muscularity (McFarland and Petrie, 2012). Hence, men also experience body shaming if they aren’t Muscular enough like the idealized examples of Men with ‘Perfect Bodies’. Due to the growing trends, only men with abs and built muscles are considered handsome and fit. It has also been noted that the media poses as a negative moderator between the muscular ideals that men have, which in turn leads to a negative image and evaluation of their own bodies in regard to the societal comparisons (Barlette, Vowels and Saucier, 2008). It appears that even though both the genders experience body shaming in various ways, however certain differences in the perception and body image of men and women still exist. Women tend to have more negative images about their bodies in comparison to men in situations differing from each other. However, evaluations are on a similar level in both the genders when they are in presence of their partners. It was observed that lower body self esteem leads to negative body evaluations including weight, appearance etc. during sexual activities for both men and women (Brennan, Lalonde and Bain, 2010).
Even though the comments are made on the physical aspects of an individual’s body, the impacts are often psychological. For example, when we are exposed to Magazines and Instagram pages that portray the desired body shape, we tend to question ourselves by comparing our bodies to the digitally altered ones. This practice of doubting ourselves can lead to losing self-confidence and lacking self-esteem. Some mental health aspects that can be affected are the way we express our emotions, called emotional expressivity and our idea of life orientation. Emotional expression can be defined in terms of how individuals portray their feelings or emotions. Emotions can be expressed by facial movements, verbally, or with gestures. Crying, laughing, smiling, or screaming are some ways in which emotions are expressed. It has been observed many times that women who tend to identify their body as being deviant from the ‘standards’ tend to indulge in disordered eating patterns. This idea of discrepancy leads to women being cognitively inclined to react to internal negative and unwanted experiences, for instance, eating less in order to become thin (Bento, Ferreira, Mendes and Marta Simōes, 2017). Similarly, men who experience unwanted emotions regarding their body shape, size and features of it, often indulge in negative evaluations and experience dissatisfaction with their bodies; and engage in dysfunctional behaviours to cope with it. Regulating one’s emotions thus becomes very important as if not done correctly, it also leads to maladaptive and harmful eating patterns (Lavender and Anderson, 2009). On the other hand, life orientation is how individuals see themselves in respect to the situations and people around them. It is concerned with the values and beliefs people have, the environment, and how they are responsible around it, how can someone lead a healthy and wise life, physical activities, and mental health. According to studies done to examine the concept behind a positive body image, it has been very significantly seen that a secure attachment can be considered to lead to higher self-esteem and optimism, and also a great predictor of positive body image (Sandoval, 2008). Another view in understanding how an individual’s life and people in its domain along with the attitude one has towards it has an effect on the body image of that person is that people who hold a negative body image seek more social approval and acceptance. In the case of women, their body image is strongly impacted by their romantic relationships and anxiety in intimacy in that relationship can lead to a negative body image and dissatisfaction in women (Cash, Thériault, and Annis, 2004).
The study therefore, argues that the interplay between these two variables and the way we perceive our bodies has a great deal of influence on our personality. The level of acceptance for his/her own body along with many other facets determines how positively we view our bodies (Tylka and Wood-Barcalow, 2015). The study also argues that a support from the people with whom the individual is close to can definitely leads to a positive body perception and love for oneself (Wood-Barcalow, Tylka and Augustus-Horvath, 2010). Thus, considering all the above discussion, the study set out to examine the psychological implication of body shaming on mental health of undergraduate students of Nasarawa State University, Keffi with the view that for an individual to lead a happy and contented life, everything around and within the person needs to be in harmony, including the nurturance and support from others and love for ourselves.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Prevalent among adolescents and youths especially in this technological era are the occurrence of violence (bullying) which causes victims, both psychological and physical damages. This bullying or violence is divided into two (2): namely physical violence and psychological (verbal) violence. The current phenomenon is the emergence of psychological (verbal) violence termed body shaming, meaning the act of commenting on a person’s physical appearance, or self-image (Chaplin, 2005). This is due to adolescence being as a period of searching for self-identity, so the values or standards from the outside (society) are easily internalized in adolescents. The taunts that are made due to the mismatch of the ideal body standards applied by the community with the self-appearance of adolescents are common behavior without having a negative physical impact on the victim and the perpetrator does not know the psychological impact of body shaming on the individual (Lestari, 2018).
Hence, this study investigates the prevalence of body shaming among undergraduate students of Nasarawa State University, Keffi. It not only focuses on ideal body size because body shaming is not only related to fat shaming (large body shape) or skinny shaming (body shape too thin), but body shaming also includes all physical aspects of a person that can be seen by others, such as skin color, height, which are mostly the concerns of women, especially young ladies.
In psychological studies, victims of body shaming experience feelings of shame about a form of body part when other people’s judgments and self-assessments are not in accordance with the ideal self expected by the individual (Damanik, 2018). In addition, Lemont (2015) also stated in his research that behaviorally, body shaming can have a significant positive correlation with the victim’s physical deterioration due to unhealthy dietary behavior to get the desired body. Psychological symptoms experienced by victims according to psychological research are depression, anxiety, eating disorders, subclinical sociopathy and low self-esteem (Chairani, 2018 in Gani and Jalal, 2020). In some cases, not a few adolescents also lose self-confidence due to changes in body shape.
However, not all teenagers who are victims of body shaming will have mental health problems. There are teenagers who have internal aspects that are able to respond well to any information or evaluation they receive about themselves. Saraswatia, Zulpahiyana, & Arifah (2015) state teenagers’ self-concept as a self-scheme, namely self-knowledge that affects how adolescents process information and take action. Teens who have a positive self-concept will remain optimistic, confident, and able to be positive about everything, including failures they experience. Therefore, in an era that is currently booming with cases of body shaming, teenagers really need to train and maintain their self-concept in order to maintain a positive attitude. Adolescents will have a positive attitude towards ridicule or comments from their environment towards their bodies due to their ability to respond positively to themselves and love their body shape positively. Teens can be given assistance in the form of psycho-educational assistance related to body shaming.
Morgan and Vera (2011) state that psycho-education is a form of psychological intervention by individuals, groups and communities that aims to provide knowledge as a form of prevention and treatment to reduce maladaptive behavior to adaptive behavior as a form of preventive behavior against mental disorders so as not to cause problematic behavior. In addition, Brown (2003) also states that the purpose of providing psycho-education is for empowerment and individual development which is packaged in the form of education related to certain information used to improve welfare.
Although, a number of studies have been conducted in terms of the psychological implications of body shaming on mental health, such as Evans (2010), Elíasdóttir (2016), Sugiati (2019), Gani and Jalal (2020), Gam, Singh, Manar, Kar and Gupta (2020), Saxena, Mathur and Samiksha (2020) etc; but these studies have not been based in Nigeria and have basically centered on body shaming as peculiar to women. A few studies exists in Nigeria on the psychological effect of body shaming on mental health which also draws attention to body shaming and its effects among men. Therefore, the present study fills the gap in this regards as it is based in Nigeria and emphasizes the occurrence of body shaming among both men and women.
The study however, investigates the prevalence of body shaming among undergraduate students of Nasarawa State University, Keffi as well as the psychological implications of body shaming on their mental health in terms of emotional expressivity, life orientation and psychological wellbeing; while pointing out the need and essence of psycho-education to engender self concept in the undergraduate students, since for an individual to lead a happy and contented life, everything around and within the person needs to be in harmony, including the nurturance and support from others and love for ourselves.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The general objective of this study is to investigate the psychological implication of body shaming on mental health of undergraduate students of Nasarawa State University, Keffi.
The study is set out to achieve the following specific objectives:
- To ascertain the difference in the prevalence of body shaming among male and female undergraduate students of Nasarawa State University, Keffi.
- To determine the relationship between body shaming, emotional expressivity and life orientation on psychological wellbeing of undergraduate students of Nasarawa State University, Keffi.
1.4 Research Questions
This research sought to provide answers to the following:
- To what extent is body shaming prevalent among male and female undergraduate students of Nasarawa State University, Keffi?
- What is the relationship between body shaming, emotional expressivity and life orientation on psychological wellbeing of undergraduate students of Nasarawa State University, Keffi?
1.5 Justification for the Study
This study will be of significance to a number of persons in the society. It will be useful to adolescent’s especially undergraduate students; parents, counselors, educators, curriculum planners and school authority for successful implementation of psycho-education services; and also the society at large and prospective researchers.
The findings from this study will be of significance to adolescent especially at the university level. It is hoped that the adolescents will understand themselves and be mindful of their perception and actions in terms of their body image and acts of body shaming. Again, this study will serve as a means of self-appraisal for them with a view of developing a self concept.
The study will be beneficial to the parents, counselors, and educators by enabling them to realize their expected roles towards the upbringing of tomorrow’s leaders. When all hands are on deck, the negative perception of body image and indeed the prevalence of body shaming will be drastically reduced in the society. Again, the study will provide insight to the school authority and curriculum planners on the need and essence of psycho-education in reducing the prevalence of body shaming and development of self concept.
The study is significant to society as it draws attention to the phenomenon of body shaming and its psychological effects on the individual; while the findings and recommendations from the study will help the victims of body shaming in dealing with the phenomenon and its psychological implications and enable them develop a positive self concept.
This study will be an addition to the body of knowledge and literature and will be useful to writers, scholars and general readers, etcetera in order to add to their existing knowledge of the psychological implication of body shaming on mental health of adolescents.
Finally, this study would serve as a manual for academic and public discourse and also provide a basis for other useful researches in this area.
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