It’s common to feel uncomfortable with different aspects of our bodies or to want to make small changes here and there. However, sometimes this dissatisfaction can start to become a burden on our mental and physical health. Here are some tips for helping a friend who may be struggling with negative body image and where to find support.
What is body image?
Body image refers to the way we view our physical appearance and how we imagine our bodies look to others. People with positive body image generally feel comfortable and confident in their bodies, while people with negative body image may feel anxious, awkward or ashamed about their bodies. It’s important to keep in mind that we may view our bodies in a distorted or inaccurate way that may not always align with reality.
Someone who is struggling with negative body image may:
It’s important to remember that negative body image can impact anyone, regardless of their identity, age, gender or body size.
How can I support a friend with negative body image?
Depending on how intensely someone experiences negative body image, it can be a difficult issue to overcome. Here are some ways you can support a friend who may be experiencing negative body image.
Be open and honest about your concerns.
If you’re concerned about a friend’s behavior, let them know privately. Try to provide specific examples of times when you felt worried or concerned about them (e.g. they avoided an event or occasion because of food or body concerns, they were particularly critical of themselves, their eating or exercise habits changed, etc.). Be sure to use “I” statements when expressing your concerns. Here are a few examples you can use:
Allow your friend time to process and respond to conversations you have around body image, especially if you’re feeling concerned. Approaching your friend with compassion can go a long way. Avoid trying to diagnose or label your friend’s habits or experience.
Set an example.
People may engage in negative self-talk without even realizing it. Commenting on our appearance, physical activity or eating habits can be commonplace in some friendships or relationships. If your friend is struggling with negative body image, sometimes the best thing we can do is set a positive example. Practicing self-acceptance and self-compassion allows us to hold space not only for ourselves, but for our friends as well. It’s also helpful to avoid making negative comments about your own body and others’.
Build them up.
Remind your friends that you love them for who they are, not what they look like. While there is nothing wrong with complimenting your friend on their appearance, it can sometimes be more helpful to focus on things that are completely unrelated to what they look like. For instance, you may let your friend know how funny they are, how brave they are, how smart they are or how great of a person they are. Focusing on inner qualities can help shift attention away from someone’s appearance and let them know they are valued as a person.
Unfollow accounts on social media.
Social media can impact our self-esteem, even if it’s not obvious. If you or your friend follow accounts that impact your body image, self-esteem, self-worth or are negatively impacting your mental health: unfollow them. Instead, seek out accounts that promote body positivity (or body neutrality) and self-love.
If you’re concerned a friend might be experiencing negative body image or is showing signs of disordered eating, check out the resources below for additional information and support.
Each year the Recreation Center hosts free events and activities throughout February as part of their ‘Love Your Body’ campaign. This year’s events will include nutrition talks, weight training for every body and free fitness classes.
Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) provides free drop-in services through Let’s Talk. Counselors are available in person and online to help provide insight, solutions and information about additional resources related to stress, anxiety, substance use, relationships and more.
CAPS offers a free online workshop that covers a variety of topics, including nutrition, body image, physical activity, sleep, stress management, self-care and more.
This weekly program allows students to participate in mindfulness exercises and activities that can help you become more in-tune with your body. The program also offers sessions specific to mindful eating and physical wellness.
Meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) to address concerns or learn more about intuitive eating, nutrition deficiencies, sports nutrition, digestive disorders, disordered eating habits and more.
Learn how to evaluate and modify your relationship with physical activity to engage in joyful movement that supports your goals and well-being.
CAPS works in collaboration with Medical Services to provide assessments and referrals for students struggling with issues related to food, weight and body image.
For 24/7 support, information on treatment options and other services related to eating disorders, please visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) website.