Countless body positivity campaigns have popped up recently in an effort to put an end to body shame and its negative affect on mental health. And while you know that low self-esteem negatively impacts a person's psychological wellbeing, could it also be the reason that some people get physically sick more often than others?
Jean M. Lamont, a researcher at Bucknell University, set out to test whether body shame impacts physical health (her theory was that, by promoting negative attitudes toward bodily processes, it could make women more susceptible to illness). At the end of July, she published her findings, writing that she did indeed find a link between poor self-image and diminished physical health. She defined body shame like this: "Unlike embarrassment, which represents a light-hearted response to the violation of social norms that others may find amusing, body shame involves a sense of social inferiority and self-reproach."
Lamont conducted two separate studies to examine the hypothesized link. In the first study, 177 female undergraduate students completed surveys assessing their body shame and body responsiveness. They also answered questions about past illnesses and symptoms and how they perceived their own health and physical abilities. The results of this study showed that body shame was associated with more infections and symptoms—and people who experienced more body shame also self-reported lower levels of health.
The second study sought to more accurately measure the relationship between physical health and body shame than the first by controlling for outside factors that could be leading to both body shame and poor health. For this study, 181 female undergraduate students completed the same questionnaires as the first group, but they did so twice during the school year rather than just once. In addition, depression, smoking, and BMI were assessed and controlled for.
After analyzing the results of the second study to see if the relationship between body shame and poor physical health persisted over time, Lamont found that, for the most part, the first study’s findings held up. Although body shame was no longer shown to be associated with excessive symptoms of illnesses, it did correlate with infections and poor health self-ratings. It's important to point out, though, that this was a relatively small group of college-aged, mostly white women who participated in the study. Lamont wrote that the link between body shame and physical health should also be tested in more diverse populations.
So while the results are very interesting, the study shows that more research still needs to be done to uncover the reasoning behind the correlation. “The processes by which this relationship occurs are likely complex and may involve additional [psychological] mechanisms,” wrote Lamont in her findings. Still, we think it's worth repeating: Your body is amazing just the way it is—and we hope you realize it!