Body Checking 101

Life is already complicated, why restrict yourself? She wanted to create a platform for open discussion on nutrition and wellness topics, considering all the information circulating around these days. Was she always interested in nutrition? No. In the not so long ago past she worked in the fashion industry and hated it. (Joke to herself: She got a B.S in Fashion Merchandising…get it?) She decided to make a change, go back to school and became involved in food policy and public health. Update: She loves what she does and wants to share as much as possible. Check out her work and learn more here.

What Is Body Checking?

It’s about time we think about Body Checking and self-talk. On the surface, they may seem unrelated, but they are connected. Understanding this connection is crucial to realizing self-harm unknowingly.. Don’t know what Body Checking is? You should keep reading, because you really should understand it.

A girl looking over her shoulder next to red lockers.

Body Checking. It’s something that pretty much everybody does, even if many people aren’t really aware of doing it. If unaware, it’s essential to recognize Body Checking, an insidious habit that can undermine you in multiple ways.

Picture this: you’re walking down the street and you run into an old friend you haven’t seen in years. You observe someone’s weight gain and think, “She’s really let herself go!” This is an example of Body Checking.

Here’s another example. Your coworker talks to you at lunch about his workout program. Though you look like you’re paying attention, you inwardly dismiss what he has to say. After all, why should you listen to exercise advice from someone with no muscle tone? They clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s also Body Checking.

Or how about this one? You see the status update of a friend who gave birth a few months ago. You notice that she still has the baby weight and think to yourself that she clearly has no self discipline. Well, that’s another form of Body Checking.

Body Checking can be as simple as a quick look and a dismissive or contemptuous feeling. You can see why so many people might be capable of Body Checking people all the time and not even be aware that they are doing it. You may not even have any conscious awareness, it’s frequently just a quick, instinctive reaction to seeing somebody, something with no conscious intent behind it. 

But that doesn’t make the reaction harmless. This habit extends beyond others to include yourself. It’s something you’re probably doing to yourself as well. Which means – it might be one of the most harmful habits you have.

What You’re Really Doing when You Body Check Someone

When you body check someone, you’re shaming them, at least in the privacy of your own head. You’re making superficial judgments, deeming their body unworthy of acceptance, and suggesting they’re undeserving of love and belonging. You may not be thinking those exact thoughts in that exact way, but those are the clear fundamentals of shame.

If you’re reading this and feeling guilty for the first time, it’s okay; you likely didn’t know before. Don’t beat yourself up. Continue reading to learn how to recognize your thoughts in the moment, ensuring a safe environment.

If you’re reading this, realizing you’ve done it, and feel no remorse at all – you may be a sociopath. And, we’re sending love your way, because you probably need to do a lot of deep introspection to understand why you can cause people massive harm, pain, and penetrating levels of suffering that can last decades, and feel nothing. (We’re guessing there aren’t many of you reading who fit this description.)

A lady looking at her body in the mirror

This can affect the person you’re judging, of course, but it also can have some pretty serious bad effects on you, too. You see, whenever you judge someone’s body and character, you’re reinforcing the standards you use to judge peoples’ bodies and characters in general. Including the standards you use to judge yours. [And, if you’re engaging in Body Checking, the standards you use are bad ones – they’re disconnected from the true virtues and values about the person you’re judging, making large assumptions about them and who they are, which then comes back into how you view your own body, every time you look in the mirror or compare yourself to someone you know or someone you see on social media, movies, TV, etc.]

In other words, when you bodycheck someone, you are basically telling your subconscious mind that bodies should not have extra weight, or must be toned and fit, or must be shapely and attractive, in order to have any worth. You are telling your subconscious mind that you really can and should judge a person’s character based on their physical appearance – including your own character. This is a very hurtful, destructive form of self-talk.

Well, your subconscious mind is a good listener. Every time you body check someone, your subconscious mind reinforces the idea that this sort of behavior is OK. So when you look at yourself in the mirror, you see your body in the same harsh, unfair terms you judge other peoples’ bodies with. When you make negative judgments about a person’s character based on their appearance, you start thinking negative things about your own character based on perceived imperfections about your body. Imperfections that you only perceive because of the influence of a giant negative external influence that indoctrinated you consciously or subconsciously: diet culture.

The Diet Culture Behind the Curtain

Diet culture is the set of unrealistic beliefs and standards that modern society has developed about dieting, physical fitness, and body image. Let’s not mince words. These beliefs and standards are downright terrible, and they do a lot of harm to a lot of people in a lot of different ways.

Diet culture holds an extremely black and white view of body image. According to diet culture, there are two kinds of bodies: perfect bodies and imperfect bodies. People with perfect bodies have perfect lives. They get promoted at work, they have tons of friends, they have rich (and beautiful) spouses, they vacation in exotic tropical locations, and they are constantly happy.

People who have imperfect bodies, on the other hand, are supposed to be willing to do anything, to go to any lengths, to correct their imperfections. If you don’t do this, it is taken as proof that something is wrong with you, that you are lazy, stupid, or guilty of some other shortcoming. If your body is imperfect, diet culture tells us, it’s your fault, it’s because you’re a bad person.

Now, “perfect’ versus “imperfect” is a ridiculous standard. It signifies that even the slightest imperfection is deemed unacceptable. It instills the idea that we must fixate on every minuscule difference between our bodies and an unrealistic, unachievable ideal of the perfect body. This mentality fosters self-blame for having these imperfections.

Diet culture permeates modern society. Its messages are everywhere: in advertisements, in sitcoms, in movies, on diet vlogs, and so much more. With so many different things in your life reinforcing the ridiculous standards and messages of diet culture, it’s no wonder that it gets into so many people’s heads. And, once there, it starts affecting their behavior.

And that’s why so many of us indulge in Body Checking, even if only on a subconscious level. We’re just acting out the script given to us by diet culture. And that causes us, eventually, to start being harsh and unrealistic with our judgments about our own bodies. Diet culture is not good for your mental health. In turn, it’s actually not good for your physical health, either, but that’s beyond the scope of this article and well covered in over blog posts here.

Unlearning what Society Taught You

If you want to free yourself from these unrealistic body standards and the harm they cause, you need to free yourself from the effects of diet culture. To do that, you need to unlearn what society has taught you. That is, you need to learn that society’s image of the perfect body is not only not perfect, it’s not even possible. You need to reject it, not just intellectually, but in your heart as well.

Body Neutrality Is a Positive Thing

A lot of people recommend body positivity to accomplish this task. At first glance, that seems like a good idea. What better way to counter the body negativity diet culture gives us than with body positivity? By expressing only positive views about your body, so the thinking goes, you will eventually teach yourself to have only positive views of your body, which will lead to acceptance of it and yourself.

It’s a nice idea. Unfortunately, it’s also kind of unrealistic. Essentially, it’s just a “fake it ‘til you make it” strategy and, while such strategies may work in the long run, they more often don’t. And the reason why the whole body positivity thing so frequently fails is because perpetual positivity is rather unrealistic. Think about it. Have you ever managed to be nothing but positive about something, no matter what, day in and day out? Have you ever met anyone who has?

Of course not. That’s not how people work. People have their ups and downs, good moods and bad. And it’s an unfortunate part of human nature that negative thoughts are frequently easier than positive ones, and many scientists and doctors believe we’re wired that way. Body positivity is therefore too often nothing more than frustrating. It leads to feeling fake, like you’re lying to yourself all the time. And that can lead to a backlash of increased negativity.

A much healthier, more realistic approach is body neutrality. This is a view that rejects both extremes: no false positivity, no diet-culture-inspired negativity. Body neutrality means seeing your body as it is, realistically, and accepting it as it is. It means refraining from viewing your deviations from the “perfect” body as flaws. You can choose to work on improving your body or leave it as is, being content with either decision. This involves approaching your body rationally, not emotionally, and learning to listen to its needs rather than the dictates of diet culture.

The Mindful Shifts Pathway

The key to making these changes, to achieving body neutrality, likely is found in changing your self-talk. And one of the biggest changes you need to make to your self-talk is to recognize Body Checking. Once you recognize Body Checking in your daily life, both that which you feel from other people, and, that which you do to other people. Stop reinforcing the validity of these ridiculous standards of diet culture. 

Reframe those thoughts into a question – where did I first learn this way of judging? Was it a parent, a friend in grade school or college, a colleague at work? Write down your answers. By asking a question, you can get curious about the root of your thinking, so you can find acceptance and understanding, which is a powerful tool in shifting your self-talk.

So, it may sound simple, but one of the most important things to do is to stop judging and criticizing people’s bodies, even in the privacy of your own head. By changing the way you talk to yourself, you can unlearn body negativity and learn body neutrality.

If your self-talk is body-neutral, the unrealistic standards of diet culture no longer have such a powerful hold on you. You will start to see your body as it is, living with body acceptance, instead of in the harsh light of diet culture’s judgments. The differences between your body and the “perfect” ideal will just look like differences to you, instead of flaws. When you think about changing them, you will be able to ask yourself reasonable questions like, “Is the change really going to be worth all that work and deprivation? Does the change even align with my values?” You will be able to see things you like in your body, not just things you dislike. And that ends up giving you more body-positive feelings than many body positivity tips.

Way’s Mindful Shifts Pathway is designed to help you achieve this goal. It’s designed to help you change your self-talk, to help you unlearn the “perfect body” image perpetuated by diet culture. It will walk you through the steps you need to take to learn how to be kind to your body. And your mind, too, for that matter.

The Mindful Shifts Pathway will do that by teaching you the difference between shame and guilt. People tend to use those words like they mean the same thing, but they really don’t. Guilt is feeling like you did something that doesn’t live up to your values. It’s deeply personal and in the words of Brene Brown, guilt is actually “adaptive and useful” – because when you know the difference and feel guilty, you realize it’s your body, unconscious, and/or conscious self guiding you to what your values truly are. 

Shame is the feeling of unworthiness of belonging, love, or connection, almost always from an external source. You may end up shaming yourself, but it’s like a bad song that just replays over and over in your mind, and it never really came from you in the first place. Shame, the way that it’s truly felt, is similar to the feeling of isolation – someone feels like you don’t belong. You’re not worthy of connection or their love. And this feeling of isolation can create loneliness, which new science from the Harvard Study on Adult Development – the longest study on humans ever recorded – has shown can create chronic stress, which creates chronic inflammation, and many studies have shown for decades how chronic inflammation is an underlying cause in over 50% of the known diseases, including the biggest one (Cardiovascular/Heart Disease).

Diet culture teaches people body shaming and that may cause serious long term stress. The Mindful Shifts Pathway will teach you body acceptance, through self-talk, uncovering Body Checking and judgment, learning the difference between shame and guilt, how to uncover your values, and then to reframe your body image to align with your values. This way, you can feel safe when the body shaming from diet culture comes through. These sessions in Way will teach you how to view yourself with kindness and respect.

It’s natural to feel guilt about things sometimes. Skipping a workout, for example, can make you feel guilty. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it allows you to recognize that in that moment, you valued relaxing and recovering, and by listening to your body you may have made such a positive stride forward in more important areas of your life and health. Guilt is meant to guide us to do better in the future. 

Shame is almost always a bad thing, though. It’s really useless, to be honest. Using shame as a fuel for activities almost always disconnects us from our body, causes deep visceral stress that leads to chronic inflammation, and just makes us feel hollow and worthless. To make such sweeping negative judgments about yourself simply for not living up to an external standard that doesn’t align with your true self or your values is the worst sort of self-talk. It leads to extremely negative emotions and can trigger mental health issues. Diet culture teaches shame. Way’s Mindful Shifts Pathway teaches you to avoid shame. It teaches you how to recognize and find safety from it.

And that can help lead you to a much healthier, happier way of being.