The 1 Obstacle Between Me and Body Acceptance Is My Friends’ Negative Self-Talk

Photo: Getty Images/HoxtonTom-Merton
I have a positive relationship with my body, but cultivating it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Sure, I have my days of feeling less than stellar, like when I catch a not-cute glimpse of myself in the background of someone's Instagram story at the gym and I'm like, is that what I really look like? When this happens, I'll text a friend and ask if I looked bad, because I need reassurance after accidentally subscribing to this social comparison of bodies. But generally speaking, I'm good with myself.

Lately though, my self-conscious moments of weakness regarding negative self-talk about my body are more often triggered by friends than things like surprise gym footage. A few of my friends have taken to comparing their bodies to those of "skinny," "sculpted," "toned" celebrities and influencers, wondering how they can get a similar physique. But since social comparison of my body to others' has never served me well, I've removed these words and phrases from my vocabulary. Instead, I focus on how I feel in my skin. It works for me… until my friends come into the picture with their own insecurities to air.

Social comparison can make us all feel like the Plastics in Mean Girls, cutting ourselves down in front of a mirror in Regina George's bedroom. When this happens in my life, I feel as though I'm Cady Heron, reticent to participate—despite the fact that I do have things I'd like to complain about (beyond having "really bad breath in the morning"). It's just that I know once I start, I won't be doing my mental health any favors—and when I do give in, all I end up with are subsequent negative emotions and destructive behaviors.

Even with all of that being true for me, I do understand that people cope differently with insecurities, have different preferences, and are at different places along the continuum of body acceptance. And I do want to be supportive to my friends in a way they find helpful—just as they are for me when I need that occasional reassurance about things like gym-time Instagram videos. That said, I don't want to sacrifice the progress I've made with my positive relationship with my body. So, what to do? Well, according to an expert, just like with so many other nuances of this topic, the lion's share of the issue is in my head and can be aided by direct communication.

"The next time you find yourself comparing your body to someone else's, pause, take a deep breath to ground yourself and your thoughts, and stop yourself from going down the rabbit hole of further comparisons." —psychotherapist Nancy Adler, PhD

"Most likely, your friend doesn’t realize that her self-critical comments are negatively impacting you," psychotherapist Nancy Adler, PhD, tells me. She recommends being open, and explaining that you've struggled with body confidence in the past and that their comments are triggering insecure feelings. "If she continues with this behavior after you've talked to her, then it’s important to set boundaries, asking her not to send body-shaming messages and not responding to them if she does."

And if you slip, it's also not the end of the world—you're human. The most important thing Dr. Adler says to prioritize throughout the journey toward body acceptance is being kind to yourself. "It's natural to compare ourselves to others and to experience jealousy as a result, so try not to be too hard on yourself when you realize that you're doing this," she says. "Once we recognize a problematic behavior, we can begin to change it. The next time you find yourself comparing your body to someone else's, see if you can pause, take a deep breath to ground yourself and your thoughts, and stop yourself from going down the rabbit hole of further comparisons."

From there, she recommends coming up with a body-positive mantra you can repeat to yourself. Also, unfollow any social media accounts that make you feel badly. "Social media provides an endless stream of highly edited, retouched images that may trigger insecurities," says Dr. Adler. "It can also be helpful to channel your negative feelings into something productive, such as writing in a journal, dancing to upbeat music, or meditating."

We asked six New York-based women to share their thoughts on body positivity—and they did not hold back. And here's how activists are reclaiming body-shaming labels.

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