How To Actually Respond When People Say Bad Things About Their Bodies

Far too many of us have been there: You're having a casual conversation with friends when one of them chimes in with a negative comment about their body or a desire to hit the gym today because they ate too many sweets. It's demoralizing, limiting, and (all too often) contagious — and it's not good for anyone involved.

"Most Americans, especially women, feel bad about their bodies and desire to be thinner," says Shayla Holub, PhD, associate professor and program head for psychological sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. "We receive messages that suggest that being thin is good and being fat is bad from media in all forms."

And it doesn't help that many of us also hear these messages from our peers on a daily basis. The problem is that these comments don't just affect the person making the complaint — studies suggest that so-called "fat talk" is associated with increased body dissatisfaction, and Dr. Holub, who advocates for changing the way we think about weight, says that these types of disparaging remarks from peers "can reinforce those [media] messages to the point that we internalize them."

When we're told at nearly every turn that we're supposed to feel bad about our bodies, it can be hard not to internalize the negative noise around us. But Dr. Holub says that educating ourselves about where these insecurities come from can help.

"When we realize these messages are not coming from sources that are encouraging us to be healthy, but instead are sources that are trying to control and confine us — forcing us to look a certain way, making us feel less valuable when we do not — we can begin to overcome them," Dr. Holub says.

Of course, just because you've started working towards eliminating negative body talk from your life, that doesn't mean your friends will automatically follow suit. So how do you respond to a friend who makes negative comments about their body so that both you and your friend move away from the vicious cycle? Ahead, we break down eight strategies.