Hint: it’s not ‘you’re beautiful’
Everyone has been there. You’re standing in a room of women, maybe getting ready at someone’s house or taking a restroom break at a restaurant, when the chorus begins.
“Ughhh, my eyebrows are so bad!” “Your eyebrows are bad? Well my nose is awful.” “Guys, shut up, literally no one is looking at your angelic faces while my fat ass legs are in the room.”
According to one survey, 93 percent of college aged women have negative discussions about their bodies and bodies around them. That’s almost everyone. And it’s not good for us. Multiple studies have found that engaging in talk about negative body features results in higher body dissatisfaction – it’s not therapeutic at all.
It can be especially hard to stay positive in yourself and your body when surrounded by women talking down on themselves. Expressing negativity can also hurt them by reinforcing negative behaviors – like disordered eating, self-esteem issues, and even depression. So how do you talk to your friend next time she opens up about how much she hates her booty, forehead, or nose? Here are some tips.
Actively discuss her concerns
Rejecting your friends concerns as a non-issue may make her less likely to confide in people in the future, which can lead to dangerous behavior going unchecked. Instead of saying she’s beautiful and delusional for feeling bad, try to decipher where she is coming from. What does she not like about herself and why does she feel that way? Learning this information may help her rationalize her feelings about herself. If she’s not there yet, it will help you to deconstruct her doubts later in the conversation.
If she’s concerned about her weight, let her know she is fine as she is
According to a study done in 2014 on over 100 college-aged women, positive comments actually help women to retain a healthy weight! The research showed that those who were concerned about their weight but were given reaffirming compliments about their body generally maintained or lost weight. Meanwhile, those who were encouraged to lose weight actually gained an average of four pounds in nine months. This may be because those who were encouraged to lose weight were more likely to binge-eat or gain weight from stress.
However, don’t overdo your compliments. Using fluffy language screams insincere – which can cause her to brush off even your genuine compliments. Also, complimenting her looks too heavily reinforce that her appearance matters greatly when it is actually the least important part of her!
Compliment her for things other than her looks
Reminding your friend that her appearance doesn’t define her as a person is incredibly important. Remind her of her talents, her sparking personality, the people who love her, or things she’s accomplished. Even if she can’t feel good about her body yet, she should feel good about who she is and what she is capable of.
Remind her what her body can do
The point of our bodies is that they help us do things. Amazing things. Remind her that her body is powerful by taking her to do something with it – whether thats an intense pilates class or just a walk.
Help her see the reality of beauty expectations
Remind her of the reality of society’s beauty ideals. First, they’re always changing. Right now, big lips are in. But next year, her thinner lips may be in. Also, genetics make most beauty ideals impossible for the majority of bodies. It’s not her fault that there’s a lack of representation in the media. Remind her that just because Gigi Hadid has four-foot-long legs and prominent cheekbones, she doesn’t need to.
Many women find power in channeling their energy into changing society’s beauty ideals instead of changing themselves. Suggest she can join the movement to increase diversity in representations of womens’ bodies.
Be a good role model
Set a good example in regards to healthy eating, exercise, and self-love. Don’t bring yourself down to build her up – this will only reinforce that self-hatred is acceptable. Instead, discuss how you keep yourself feeling confident or how you fight negative thoughts.
Be caring but stick to your guns
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), allies should “avoid making rules, promises, or expectations that you cannot or will not uphold.” For example, pressuring your friend to quit an action by saying “If you do this one more time, I’ll never talk to you again” may keep your friend from disclosing information in the future.
However, your friend shouldn’t be pressuring you either. Remember that even if they’re hurting, your friend must be responsible for their actions and the consequences of those actions. They should not be attacking you at any point during your conversations or using their emotions to manipulate you.
Also, remember that you are allowed to draw a line if their negativity is causing you confidence issues. Let them know that you care about them, but a professional will be able to talk to them about their body image without damaging friendships or your self-image.
If you have a suspicion that your friend is suffering from an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder, seek help. According to NEDA, “addressing body image or eating problems in their beginning stages offers your friend the best chance for working through these issues and becoming healthy again.” Don’t wait until your friend is in danger to tell someone. Disordered eating and self-image disorders are mental illnesses that require professional help.