When people experience shame, a popular reflex is to simply not deal with it.
Unfortunately, while denial may work as a temporary fix in some situations (romance, family drama, the environment), its effects create a far more immediate response when we apply it to our own bodies.
Jean Lamont, a researcher from Bucknell University, ran two studies in which she attempted to find the effect of body shame on women's health.
First, Lamont gathered a group of 177 female undergrads and set out to discern each woman's level of body shame, how responsive a participant was to her body's needs and her ability to judge her own physical well-being.
To do so, Lamont provided the women with a list of statements and asked them to rate to what degrees they agreed or disagreed with each. Statements included, "When I'm not the size I think I should be, I feel ashamed," and, "I am confident that my body will let me know what is good for me."
Then, Lamont had the women report any infections or illnesses they experienced over the preceding half-decade on a five-point scale.
To ensure outside variables like BMI, cigarette use and depression didn't tamper with the experiment's findings over time, Lamont conducted a secondary study with 181 female undergrads in which she had the women answer the survey twice during the fall semester.
The women completed the surveys once in September and again in December, around flu season.
Results showed women with higher levels of shame for their bodies had worse health over time, compared with those who experienced fewer feelings of shame.
Lamont believes the correlation between body shame and poorer health may result from the lack of care and response women who feel shame give to their bodies.
The same way people close their eyes during a scary movie, women who feel ashamed of their bodies may feel less inclined to respond to its needs regarding health and hygiene.
The moral of the story: Pay attention to the cues your body sends; your life could literally depend on them.
Citations: Body Shame May Actually Be Making Women Sick, Study Suggests (Huffington Post)