How To Help A Friend Who Body Shames Themselves

It can be an awkward situation if you've ever heard your friend say something negative about their body or how they look. Many women wonder how to respond without validating their friend's beliefs about themselves while remaining a trusted confidante. Women who struggle with negative body image are the majority, and they start doing this at a very young age. The National Organization for Women reports that by age 13, 53% of American girls struggle with being proud of their bodies. This feeling grows as the girls grow older, so it's no wonder many women unfairly feel this type of shame and dissatisfaction.


You likely have a friend who makes negative comments about their body. While it can be tempting to join in with direct and harsh criticism, there are many other ways to support your friend who verbalizes their dissatisfaction. These recurring comments might seem harmless, but they are often the first sign of low-self esteem and, in some cases, indicate disordered eating.

Let them know you understand

When a person is struggling with their body image, it can be hard to know just what to say. To really support your friend who is struggling with loving their body, they have to feel like you are listening. Their feelings are real, and so is their struggle. Let them confide in you without interruption. While listening to their concerns, use body language and comforting actions to let them know you are a safe space to express their true feelings. Sometimes, a person just needs a listening ear when they are frustrated.


When your friend is ready, ask clarifying questions to help you understand how to best support them. In addition, ask them if something else is going on in their life. Maybe their projection on their body is covering up for a struggle with their partner, child, or a tough day at work. No matter what, listen, validate, and be there for them. 

Use 'I' statements

If your friend's comments have gone beyond a remark here and there, it may be time to tell them that you are concerned about what they are verbalizing. This may be an excellent time to let them know exactly what they said that troubled you. We recommend using "I" statements when explaining your concerns. This empathetic phrasing helps your loved one not to feel defensive or attacked. Saying things like, "I worry when you talk about yourself in this way" or "I feel helpless when you say these things about your body" are good conversation starters. Explain that it upsets you when you hear them speak negatively about themselves and that you are worried about their health and well-being.


Hearing you verbalize their words and actions might help them realize that their comments affect others around them. As long as you come to the conversation with genuine intentions and not with an accusatory tone, your friend will most likely feel heard and seen, which may impact their negative self-talk in the future.

Don't follow the negative talk

Although it may be tempting to validate your friend's feelings by joining in on the negative body talk, try to stay out of that conversation. You may feel like you're doing something great for your friend, but you are actually perpetuating this kind of body shaming. In addition, you're normalizing this dialogue as well. Instead of listing all of the ways you dislike your body, refuse to engage in this type of talk cycle and change the trajectory of the conversation. You should validate and listen compassionately but then try to move the conversation in a light and positive direction.


By refusing to engage in negative body exchange, you make it so that discussing other people's bodies is deemed rude and odd. Instead, let the topic die out with you. This will help your friend see that you no longer wish to think these thoughts about yourself, and it will make your time with them more enjoyable.

Turn the conversation around

Since you refused to join a conversation of this kind, don't be afraid to set an example by celebrating your body and exhibiting self-love. We all struggle with negative body image here and there, but refusing to contribute to self-deprecating exchanges is the way to go. You can even state something positive about your body, modeling how possible it is to live without shaming the beautiful creation you are. When your friend begins mentioning the things they dislike about themselves, we recommend asking them why they feel this way. Have a conversation about how their worth as a person has nothing to do with their appearance.


Going further, you can mention the parts of themselves that have nothing to do with their physical being. Discussing their sense of humor, how they care for others, and their importance in your life are great alternatives to complimenting their body. It redirects and shows your friend that you don't care about appearances.

Don't tell them they're wrong

Although you don't want to agree when your friend begins shaming themselves, try hard to avoid statements that make them feel like you think their beliefs and perceptions are inaccurate. In fact, when your friend starts speaking negatively about their body, it can be tempting to tell them they're acting irrationally and that such thought patterns are unproductive and damaging. If you take this route, your pal will not feel supported — not only will this invalidate their feelings, but it will also make them less likely to open up to you in the future.


As their friend, you can do nothing about how they are feeling except be there to listen to them. Don't worry about convincing them they are wrong; combat their negativity with kind words. Your friend's concerns are valid; they need to feel supported as they work through these negative feelings.

Tell them why you love them

Feeling this way about one's body is taxing, and your friend probably needs some cheering up. As you work to build them back up from these low emotions, consider complimenting them on anything but their physical appearance. Commenting on how beautiful they look or how skinny they are might seem like a good plan, but it will only perpetuate the falsehood that looks are more important than all else. Since this is the message you are avoiding, focus on why you love them.


Commenting on how they make you feel and what they do to enhance this world is a good plan and a great place to start. Similarly, tell them how their passion is contagious, that they make any outing fun, and their strength through all situations is admirable. If we're being honest, these are the traits that matter the most in life. This does not mean that all comments about how they appear are off-limits, but try to switch it up now and then to take the pressure off.

Set your body-talk boundaries

If you are looking to be there for your friend, having a conversation about boundaries at a later time might be the best course of action. Often, when we feel frustrated with our bodies, we are not ready to entertain the negativity that stems from this topic, and rightly so. If you are close with a friend who keeps commenting about their body, have a discussion where you make it clear that this isn't the kind of chitchatting you'd like to participate in. By explaining that your goals involve celebrating your body or, at least, generally abstaining from defeatist body talk, you will have drawn your boundary enough that they will know that kind of negativity isn't something you're comfortable with.


Your tone going into this conversation can be gentle and understanding but assertive enough for you to make your point. This way, they will honor and respect your desire to keep the conversation clear of negative body talk.

Know when to seek help

If your friend is making negative comments about themselves or their body more consistently than they were, it may be time to encourage them to see a professional. It's even more critical if they take other drastic measures, including depriving themselves of food or working out to exhaustion. Suggesting that they talk to someone who specializes in disordered eating may help them in more ways than one. They will gain access to alternative thinking and speaking patterns and may even be given exercises to practice positive body acceptance and expression.


Sometimes it takes advice from a person removed from the situation to resonate. They may find clarity in discussion with a professional who can help them to see that their worth and value are not tied to their appearance. From birth, negative body talk and thoughts about our bodies are ushered into our consciousness at a young age as being normal. If your friend is suffering from this very well-practiced mantra, help them see that this isn't a belief they must hold on to. There is help for those struggling in this way.