By Alex Raymond, RD,LD.
I’m majoring in psychology at school and my hope is to work with eating disorders. I’m in a sorority and I already hear a lot of negative body image talk in the house as we try on clothes before heading out. I’d love to get advice on what I can say to counter my friends’ negative thoughts. I just want them to feel good about themselves, but I’m not sure how I can help them to not listen to the part of their mind that unnecessarily shames them!
This question was actually sent to me by a past intern. I was emailing her back and forth about how school is going and wondering if she wanted to help us out with some social media projects. She originally went to school majoring in nutrition, but switched to psychology. When she sent me this question, I thought to myself, “wow, I’m sure there are so many other people who would benefit from hearing my answer… it’ll make an awesome blog.” So here we go.
Let me first start out by saying that it’s very normal (and almost socially acceptable) to poke at your body and point out perceived flaws.
I always think of that scene in Mean Girls when “The Plastics” are in front of Regina’s mirror body bashing, and Cady is over there like “uhh this is weird, we didn’t do this in Africa, wtf am I supposed to say here?” We are brought up in a culture that overly values physical appearance (especially for women). Women are defined by their bodies and there is a constant quest for beauty, Advertisements for beauty products target “insecurities/flaws” we are “supposed” to have but when you really think about it, these “insecurities/flaws” were all made up by our culture and don’t really have to be flaws at all.
It’s acceptable and almost encouraged to want to change your body.
To buy products, diet plans, cleanses, sometimes plastic surgery in order for our bodies to mold into our culture’s “beauty ideal.” If you are a woman, especially a woman in a marginalized body, and you aren’t trying to change your body, you are totally going against the cultural norm. And many people (unfortunately) are not okay with that.
So, when friends/family comment negatively on their bodies, they might not even realize what they are doing. Picking out “flaws” is something that is seen to be normal and acceptable. It’s rare, and extremely difficult at that, for someone to be okay with their body insecurities. And I truly admire anyone who is trying to work on that and who wants others to feel the same.
Here are some of my ideas to begin to institute a bit of body respect and appreciation into your friends:
1. Institute a “positive affirmation jar.”
Inspired by New Girl’s “douchebag jar….” When I was in college, I did this with my roommates. Anytime one of us said something negative about our bodies, we would have to put a slip of paper in our positive affirmation jar. Well, we called it the positive affirm-mason jar because it was in a decorated mason jar and we’re punny like that. So, the slip of paper had to say something positive, or neutral, about our bodies or our personalities. It was a great way to give use a little reminder, like, “hey, talking badly about our bodies isn’t very nice, let’s apologize to ourselves and add a bit of positivity.”
2.Tell your friends “body bashing” makes you feel uncomfortable.
This one might be a bit difficult to do. It’s hard to speak up in a situation where you may be the minority.But, I do think it’s totally appropriate to say something like, “wow have you guys noticed that we can be so critical about our bodies. I think you are all beautiful for so many reasons, what if we tried to say nice things about the ways we looked?” Chances are, you may not be the only one in the room who feels uncomfortable when her friends “body bash.”
3. Leave the room.
There is always the option to remove yourself from this situation if you feel like it’s toxic to you. I have totally done it. There are times, when your friends or family member are so entrenched in the diet culture/body bashing thinking, they may not want to change it. Or they may not understand why it’s important to change the language. And it’s totally okay for you to think to yourself, “hey this isn’t helpful for me, I need to head to the bathroom for a little to take a break.”
4. Watch body positive videos.
There are some great cheesy (And some not so cheesy) vids out there that promote body appreciation. You can watch them with or without your friends! Here are my faves.
5. Accept that some people won’t change.
Gosh, I wish we could save everyone from diet culture. Sometimes, people are just very stuck in that mentality and it’s difficult for them to escape. They might not be ready to change the way they think about their bodies. Sometimes, it can be helpful to remember that to help shift your focus off of other people and onto yourself. Even if your friends are struggling with body image, it doesn’t mean you have to succumb to the body bashing. And yes, I totally get it, if your friends tend to be negative toward their bodies, it definitely makes it way easier for you to fall into that trap. Come up with a couple of phrases you can tell yourself when your friends go down that rabbit hole. Like “my friends are body bashing right now, I don’t have to.” Or “My friends are being negative, here is something positive about myself…” Or “Take some deep breaths, let’s try to tune them out…”
6. Clean you social media feed. Fill it with motivational and body inclusive accounts
The most likes on instagram nowadays tend to be fitspo girls or masculine men showing off their body with a lot of praise throughout the comments because that body type can be “difficult to achieve” and they thrive from popularity by looking that way. This can drive anyone into thinking that something is wrong with them and that something needs to change in order to be “worthy” in the eyes of other people if their body doesn’t look like those Instagram models. Social media can be both a blessing and a curse. Fill your newsfeed with positive accounts and delete any account that makes you uncomfortable.
To Wrap it up….
We tend to be our own worst critic. And the societal” norm” of picking at what we think are “flaws” plays into this. Removing toxic people/influences and working on speaking to ourselves more gently can help us be more positive and help us build a better mindset. If you have any questions at all or want and input on building body image, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org