Body Checking Meaning

Monica is an aspiring doctor turned aspiring biomechanical engineer turned personal trainer…LOL. She pursued this career for the same reason most do – to serve others and help them live their best lives, recognize their own potential, work through developing sustainable habits in ways they enjoy, etc. She loves watching the body move and it amazes her how unique everyBODY truly is. There is no one-size-fits-all. As life evolves, our approach evolves – mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Body checking is something you probably do all the time without even realizing that you’re doing it. Even if you don’t know what “Body Checking” means. It’s a very common habit. Unfortunately, it’s not an innocent habit.

In fact, it’s a rather harmful habit. One that you should not feel bad about, because you probably learned it subconsciously. Though now that you’re aware, it would be wise to examine the meaning if body checking for the sake of your happiness, well-being, and maybe even your mental, emotional, and physical health.

Body Checking Meaning

To get a good understanding of what body checking is and whether you do it, consider these examples:

  1. You’re walking into a store and you pass another customer on the way in. You give her a quick once-over and feel a dismissive little feeling, along with the thought, “She’s all pudgy and chubby-cheeked. She obviously doesn’t really care about herself.”
  2. You hit the gym, like you do every day. You notice that the guy on the rowing machine has no muscle definition, even when flexing. “Well,” you say to yourself, “I’m way ahead of that guy!”
  3. You see a large woman at the store wearing spandex. “That’s disgusting,” you say to yourself, “somebody who looks like she does shouldn’t wear clothes like that.”
  4. You’re standing in line at the movie theater. While you wait, you check out the other people in the line. “Too fat,” you think when you look at one woman. “Flabby arms,” you mentally note when looking at another.

All of these scenarios are examples of body checking. They are, literally, examples of checking other people’s bodies and making a judgment about the person as a whole. Possibly about their character.

And, technically, it’s prejudicial – you don’t even know that person, how can you possibly know whether they have a thyroid issue, suffered a traumatic loss of life in their family, have an inconspicuous disability.

One of the core principles of intuitive eating is to reject the diet mentality. When you’re body checking yourself or someone else, you’re living in a diet culture mentality, by presupposing what a body “should” look like.

Subtler Examples of Body Checking

As you can see, body checking is a very common practice, one that many, if not most, people do to some extent or other, at least in some circumstances.

However, body checking doesn’t always involve anything so clear as thinking something distinct and judgmental about somebody else. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of checking out somebody’s body and feeling something, like in these examples:

1. A jogger passes you on the sidewalk. When you see the way his belly jiggles while he runs, you laugh to yourself about how ridiculous he looks.

2. You are talking to a customer service agent, who is explaining something about the company’s policies to you. You aren’t really listening to her, though, because you feel like she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. It’s just a feeling you have about her, based on her weight and poor physical fitness.

3. You check on an old friend’s social media to see how she’s doing. In an instant, without thinking, you feel sorry for her because she’s put on a little weight.

Body checking isn’t always a matter of consciously and deliberately making judgments about people. Often, it’s nothing more than a subconscious reaction, a simple feeling as a reaction to something you’ve seen. So why is this habit so dangerous, then?

The “Perfect” Body Delusion

People are social creatures. They constantly judge their own behaviors, establish their own sense of self-worth, by comparing themselves to other people. So it’s only natural for you to try to figure out how attractive you are, or how healthy you are, by comparing yourself to other people.

The problem starts with the standards that just about everyone uses for these comparisons. They are, to put it bluntly, simply terrible. They are completely unrealistic, because the standard that people ultimately compare themselves to is perfection.

The standard of the “perfect body” comes from modern diet culture. It comes from people and companies that want to sell you their products for losing weight and getting fit by making you feel bad about your body. After all, everyone falls short of perfection, so if the perfect body is the standard people are held to, everyone will feel bad enough about their own bodies to buy their diet or fitness products.

Commercials, weight loss blogs, and more tell us that if you have the perfect body, your life will be wonderful. You’ll get a promotion at work, everyone will adore you, you’ll marry a rich person, and your life will be nothing but non-stop good times. These same sources tell you that if you don’t have the perfect body, you’re supposed to be willing to do anything, go to any lengths, to get it. And if you aren’t willing to go that far, there’s obviously something wrong with you.

The Guilt/Shame Connection

This black and white manner of thinking is very harmful. For one thing, it sets up an all or nothing way of thinking about your physical health and beauty. It teaches you to think either that you are perfect or that you are worthless. And that can lead to some very unhealthy feelings. You can explore these feelings more deeply using tools like an emotions chart.

Feeling Guilt

Think about guilt, for a moment. There’s nothing inherently wrong with guilt, in and of itself. It’s a useful emotion, in moderation, and helps you to keep yourself doing the things you’re supposed to be doing. If you blow off a workout to sit on the couch and binge watch a hit new show, it’s not only natural to feel a little guilty about it, it’s also kind of appropriate, because that’s not really a good reason to not do something that you decided you need to do for your health.

However, the absolutist, black and white way of thinking encouraged by diet culture encourages you to overdo the guilt thing. If you are supposed to do anything and everything you can to turn your body into the perfect ideal body promoted by diet culture, you will naturally feel guilty over not doing enough to attain it. And, since the perfect body is unattainable, you will be left always feeling guilty.

Guilt is only useful in moderation. Living in a state of chronic guilt will leave you feeling constantly stressed out and negative.

The Difference between Guilt and Shame

The “perfect body” standard also turns guilt into shame, and that’s a very toxic emotion. Unlike guilt, shame has no positive benefit. You may, like a lot of people, think that guilt and shame mean the same thing. They really don’t, though. Guilt is a negative feeling you get about something that you did or failed to do. Shame is a negative feeling about yourself, that always comes from outside yourself (i.e. social standards, someone else’s opinion or judgment). You may think that’s a rather small distinction to make, but it’s a very critical one.

When you feel guilty, you feel bad about something you did, because it didn’t live up to your values. When you feel shame, you almost always are feeling bad because you feel like you’re unworthy of belonging, love, or connection, in the Brené Brown definition – some external person said you didn’t fit a standard, so there’s something “wrong” with you (which is utter nonsense!).

When you feel guilty, you are telling yourself, “I’m not doing what I know is right.”

When you feel shame, you are telling yourself, “I am never going to belong, fit in, or be loved.”

Reframing Shame, Guilt, and Body Image

You’ll eventually get over feeling guilty about something or find a way to use the feeling of guilt to guide you towards your values – especially if you do something about whatever action made you feel guilty.

Shame is different, though. It’s something that you must learn and practice getting safety from, because someone judging you with shame is not your problem – it’s the other person’s problem.

How to Practice Mentally and Emotionally Protecting Yourself from Shame

What they say isn’t in your control, but how you respond *is* within your control, if you practice. Don’t take it personally, it shouldn’t be a weight on your heart that you can’t get out from under. Don’t let shame poison your mind, tinting everything else you do and feel with negativity – see that this other person’s/people’s misguided judgment doesn’t really matter. It’s likely them just projecting their own feelings of insecurity and shame onto you.

A little bit of shame is not fun, but tolerable. The long-term feelings of shame that come from diet culture’s ridiculous standards are far worse. They can lead to feeling anxiety, depression, and stress. These feelings are low energy in and of themselves, of course, but they can also lead you to take some very foolish risks in a desperate attempt to get the ‘perfect’ body. And that’s what the diet industry is banking on. If you feel that bad about yourself, you may be desperate enough to take a chance on the latest diet or exercise gimmick, no matter how little proof there is that it actually works.

Body checking isn’t really about other people. At its root, it’s all about you. You do it because you want to form opinions about yourself. And when you engage in body checking, you are using the “perfect body” standard to evaluate other people. By doing that, you are telling your subconscious mind that it’s OK to use these standards. So what sort of standards do you think you’re going to use when you think about your own body? When you body check other people, you may be being unfair to those other people, but the one you really end up hurting is yourself.

A Better Way

The Way app can help you learn a better way of thinking about your body and your health. It helps you avoid the body negative language and judgment of diet culture while also avoiding the pitfalls of unrealistic, unsustainable body positivity with its more realistic “body neutrality” approach.

The Way app can keep you mindful of habits that don’t align with your values, like body checking, that sabotage you. It can help you develop a greater awareness of your relationship with food so that you can make healthier choices. And, as a result, it can help you develop body acceptance, body compassion, and even body kindness. These are things that lead to you feeling better about yourself, instead of ashamed.