National Eating Disorders Association

5 Ways to Challenge Body Bullying

Stephanie Padich and Tori James, Communications Interns

Hi everyone – Steph & Tori, NEDA Communications interns here! It’s National Bullying Prevention Month and today, we’d like to discuss bullying and weight-shaming in schools – a huge epidemic in today’s modern society. Bullying about weight and size stirs up negative emotions and can lead students to form a negative body image. Unfortunately, negative body image often plays a major role in triggering disordered eating and full-fledged eating disorders among pre-adolescent and adolescent children. 

What can we do to preserve and promote positive body image in school-aged children to help prevent eating disorders? Below are five tips we brainstormed to help stamp out weight-shaming bullying for good! 

1. Compliment others on their character, not what they look like. 

Beauty and self-worth comes from within – the positive and unique attributes we have and how we treat others are what really matter at the end of the day! When we focus on what is on the inside, we are less focused on what others think about our bodies, making us less self-conscious and more empowered to be our true selves separate from our size and shape. By straying away from body comments, existing positive body image can be preserved and maintained.  

2. Remember: what and how much someone eats or exercises is none of your business! 

Every body is beautiful and unique, which means that every body has different needs in order to function optimally! In other words, some children might need more or less food or more or less exercise to feel their best. Commenting on how much someone eats or exercises can be detrimental because such comments can lead that person to be more critical of themselves, leading them to distrust their natural body cues. 

If you think your friend or someone you know may be suffering from disordered eating and/or compulsive exercise, let a trusted adult or professional know. They will know the best ways you can express your concerns without stirring negative emotions in those you’re worried about.  

Don’t forget to use NEDA resources! You can call the NEDA Helpline at (800) 931-2237 to find out more about eating disorders and the best ways to address your concerns in supportive and positive ways. The Helpline is available Monday-Thursday from 9AM to 9PM and Friday 9AM to 5PM Eastern Time. Also, check out these tips on the NEDA website on how to talk to a friend who may be struggling with an eating disorder. 

3. Be the change. When you don’t talk negatively about your own shape and size and practice self-care, others will notice and be inspired to treat themselves kindly, too!

Self-love and self-care are two of the most important aspects of body positivity. By being body positive to yourself, you can lead by example. People will notice and admire your positivity and how self-care affects your everyday life, and want to adopt that kind of thinking for themselves. This is a huge step in the direction to end body shaming. By creating a body-positive environment, you are not only doing good for yourself, but also for those around you!

4. Don’t stand on the sidelines: if you see someone being bullied, speak up.

You never know how much body-shaming comments can affect the person being bullied, so if you see something, don’t be afraid to speak up! By positively expressing your disagreement with the bullying, you can help prevent problematic thinking and future body-shaming issues in those being bullied. Standing up for what is right is always the right thing to do, so don’t be a bystander! You could be not only a huge help to the person, but set an example and make sure it never happens again.

5. Talk about it! If someone says something body-shaming toward you, don’t be afraid to tell someone you trust. 

By telling someone about hurtful comments made toward you, they can act as a support system and help alleviate the problem in the future. No problem can be fixed if we stay silent. Adults need to know when bullying happens so they can help, not only to make sure it never happens again, but also to serve as an emotional outlet. Suppressing emotions, especially if they’re body-negative, can have a dangerous effect and could spiral into bigger issues like disordered eating. Whether it’s a close friend, parent, sibling, teacher or even a counselor – it is important that someone knows the situation at hand. They will not only become a huge support for you, but can help stop the bullying issue altogether.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that eating disorders are complex illnesses, and while bullying does not necessarily cause eating disorders, it could play a role in the development of an eating disorder. 

For additional resources on bullying, check out:

Body-Shaming + Cyberbullying

Parent and Educator Toolkits 

Strength in Numbers: A Personal Story on Overcoming Cyberbullying

Stephanie Padich is a psychology major and recent college grad from SUNY New Paltz who is passionate about mental health advocacy and stamping out stigma. In her spare time, she loves going on hikes and being out on the dance floor. 

Tori James is a senior at Manhattan College and originally from Schwenksville, PA. Tori is an advocate for eating disorder awareness and social justice. She intends to use her experiences and creativity to provide love, support and positivity to others.