We can’t magically grant body peace to those we care about, but we can help them build self-acceptance, by encouraging them: “come as you are!“
The idea of body image is tightly wound within, but also extends beyond, eating disorders. Our body image affects everything from the clothes we buy to the food we eat. Issues with body image can even impact our sociability and mood.
Without even knowing you, we know that you are worth much more than whatever shows on the outside.
Reaching out to help someone with body image issues can be challenging. Those with body image issues, or any struggle, may be sensitive or have a hard time acknowledging their challenge. So patience, mindfulness, and kindness are all important aspects of helping someone who is struggling.
Learn to recognize when someone is struggling with their body image, what it feels like to them, and helpful ways you can support them, below.
(click to be taken to a section, or read through!)
- Signs of Body Image Issues
- Triggering Topics
- Things You Can Say To Help
- Things You Can Do To Help
- Things Not To Do
- What It Feels Like To Struggle With Body Image
- Celebrity Spotlight
- Body Positive Songs
Recognize signs and triggers
You may want to help a friend, but it can be hard to tell whether someone is actually struggling in the first place.
Anyone can struggle with their body image, whether they’re a man or woman (or non-identifying), whether curvy or slender, whether athletic or sedentary.
If we want to show support, it’s important to recognize some common signs of body image issues — so we don’t make assumptions based on preconceived notions.
Some common signs of body image issues
How do we recognize body image issues? What sorts of triggers should we, as supporters, be mindful of?
Here are some hints that someone you care about may be struggling with their body image:
- Showing reluctance to eat or expressing guilt when eating
- Withdrawing from social situations, whether it’s meals or regular get-togethers
- Counting calories
- Using substances that are known to help one lose weight, such as diet pills, excessive amounts of caffeine, or cigarettes
- Periods of restricting food or eating large amounts at once
- Trying to hide when or what they’ve eaten
- Constantly weighing or measuring themselves
- Wearing baggy clothing to hide their appearance
- Constant self -deprecation about their attractiveness
- Frequently commenting on others’ bodies (positively or negatively)
Potentially triggering topics
And here are some topics, phrases, and settings that may feel triggering to someone concerned about their physical appearance:
- Going out to eat
- Shopping for clothes or trying on clothes
- “Maybe something else would be less fattening.”
- Fat talk or fat shaming about yourself or others
- Personal tips on dieting or watching weight
- “You’re so skinny, you should eat more.”
- Family gatherings that involve eating around others, such as Thanksgiving
- “You look great, stop worrying.”
- “You look unhealthy/sick.”
- “You look great what diet/exercise are you on?”
What you can say to help:
“There is never a need to apologize for your body.”
“Could you say that again, but in a way that values your body more?” (when they speak negatively about their body)
“Your personality is so radiant, there is no reason someone would think about your appearance over that.”
“You don’t have to put more demands on your body. It’s the only one you’ve got.”
“If someone thinks you’re not good enough because of how they perceive your appearance, they don’t understand how life works.”
“I am friends with you for who you are, not for how you look.”
“You are not ‘fat.’ That word implies horrible things — none of which apply to you.”
“I love you so much and think you are amazing if you’re 80 or 800 pounds. ❤️”
How else can I help someone with body image issues?
It’s understandable that you’re concerned and want to help someone you care about. But sometimes a direct conversation is a hard place to start!
Below are some common ways to show support, without putting your friend on-the-spot — and a list of behaviors that can do more harm than good.
7 ways to support someone with body image issues
1. Show support with meals
A friend or family member struggling with body image issues may feel uncomfortable eating, especially in public. Make sure to be understanding and kind during meal times or around food.
2. Show support outside of meals
Withdrawal from social events is a common byproduct of body image issues. Make sure you don’t leave your friend out and that they know they’re still wanted at hangouts.
3. Be patient and actively listen
It’s dangerous to assume that you know exactly what they’re going through. If they feel open to talking, make sure you listen and stay patient – remind them you’ll be here through their body acceptance journey.
4. Understand their boundaries
Part of helping is knowing how comfortable they are with you helping. There may be denial or resistance, and you should respect the boundaries they set.
5. Ask what they need
The best way to help someone is to ask what they feel they need first. When you understand what they want help with, you’re better equipped to support them.
6. Be encouraging and build them up
It’s easy to become discouraged when you’re battling body image issues. Acknowledging that you see their efforts is important – as well as reminding them that you love them no matter what they look like.
However, the most important thing you can do, is make them feel valued for things unrelated to their physical appearance. Compliments on non-physical attributes go a long way to take the focus off their body entirely!
7. Encourage them to talk to someone
Remind them that they don’t have to talk to you, but that it can really help to talk to someone. If they don’t feel comfortable talking in person, there are anonymous places to talk online, where people are trained to help rather than make someone with body image issues feel worse.
5 things not to do
1. Don’t force them to eat or exercise
You can’t force someone to engage in behaviors you think are best for them. Making them eat or exercise when they don’t feel ready will do more harm than good. And even if they don’t comply, the pressure may add to existing feelings of shame and paralysis.
2. Don’t pressure them to be confident
Simply stating that they’re beautiful or that they have nothing to worry about won’t magically make them believe it. They may even worry that their concerns are annoying you — and that you may just be placating them with your reassurances. Be mindful in your compliments, and genuinely affirming rather than smothering.
3. Don’t make ultimatums
If this person is benefitting from your support, don’t threaten to leave if they don’t get better. This may make them feel abandoned and frightened, as it’s not their choice to have body image struggles to begin with.
4. Don’t ignore the issue
Body image issues are different for different people. You may not be equipped to support your friend, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore what’s going on. Remind your friend you love them no matter how they look or what they’re going through – and do encourage them to seek help if they feel they need it.
5. Don’t blame them
This isn’t their fault, and most of the time they know that they’re struggling with something. Don’t guilt trip them or blame them for what’s going on. Nobody chooses to have an eating disorder or to hate their body. It may even help to reassure them of that.
If talking is too hard, you can still be supportive
If some of these ways to help seem overwhelming, here are some songs and people that promote body acceptance – just sharing them with a friend can show that you understand and want to help. And it may help your friend to see that their struggle is relatable to so many others.
Can’t find the words to help? Try sending a body-positive banger!
Music is a non-threatening venue to try on and accept new attitudes and emotions. Someone struggling to love themselves may find it easier when singing along to a body-positive song.
You might get a boost from singing along, too!
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Don’t say it cuz I know I’m cute.”
“I’m like Chardonnay, get better over time.”
“No, I’m not a snack at all, Look baby, I’m the whole damn meal”
Lose Control, Missy Elliot
“I got a cute face, chubby waist, thick legs, in shape… make you do a double take.”
Coconut Oil, Lizzo
“I thought I needed to run, and find somebody to love, but all I needed was some coconut oil.”
“Don’t worry about the small things, I know I can do all things.”
All About That Bass, Meghan Trainor
Just The Way You Are, Bruno Mars
I’m Coming Out, Diana Ross
Me Too, Meghan Trainor
“If I was you, I’d wanna be me, too.”
Just Fine, Mary J. Blige
“So I like what I see when I’m lookin’ at me, When I’m walkin’ past the mirror.”
“Got my head on straight, I got my vibe right, I ain’t gonna let you kill it. I won’t change my life, my life’s just fine.”
Celebrities struggle with body image, too!
Case in point: Jameela Jamil
If you care about someone struggling to accept themselves, try reminding them of all the celebrities who also fight for body peace. It helps to see how many normal and even successful people go through this!
One such person is Jameela Jamil, star of The Good Place, and body acceptance warrior!
Jameela has called out celebrities who endorse fad diet products, advocated to end photoshopping, and even opened up about her own struggles with body image.
As a survivor of an eating disorder, as well as chronic health problems, she uses her platform to advocate for a healthier and more positive view of body image — one in which we don’t focus on each others’ bodies at all.
In that vein, one of the most recent movements Jameela started is the “I Weigh” Instagram account, which encourages women to weigh themselves by their self worth, rather than a number on a scale.
She says she was “fucking tired of seeing women just ignore what’s amazing about them and their lives and their achievements, just because they don’t have a bloody thigh gap.”
The instagram account has become increasingly popular. It now has more than 249,000 followers and features more than 2,000 user-submitted posts from women.
“The concept of plus-size is so derogatory and weird. What does that mean? Plus the normal size? It shouldn’t exist anymore.” And she’s right – why are we talking about each others’ sizes in the first place?
What it feels like to struggle with body Image
Below, we’ve included some first-person perspectives on what it feels like to have an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, or just plain struggle to accept your body as it is.
From Sarah Girard, a former student athlete who shares her experience at Swarthmore College. She points out things we accept as normal, but which hurt those struggling to accept their bodies:
From a mom’s perspective, about making progress for her daughter’s sake:
Body positivity is for everyone
Some people don’t worry as much about their bodies if they haven’t experienced judgement for their appearance, but body acceptance is important for everyone – man, woman, nonbinary, cis, trans, child, adult, etc.
For instance, society has certain expectations for men’s bodies, too, and that can make body positivity difficult!
Everyone can use a little more body acceptance in our world today — or better yet, people shouldn’t be judged on their physical appearance at all.
Without even knowing you, we know that you are worth much more than whatever shows on the outside.
To talk about body image issues, get some support, or just meet people who get it, hit Chat Now to join an anonymous peer support chat.