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A new study from Ohio State University confirms a truth universally acknowledged: The key deciding factor in your body image isn't your BMI or your waist size -- it's how you think other people feel about your body.
When you're getting dressed, alone in your room, you think you're as cute as a button. But as soon as you're around other people -- your calorie-counting cubicle mate, the crazy fit friend who nevertheless constantly bemoans how fat she feels, your lunch buddy who prefaces every bite with an apology -- all the fat phobia, judgment, and anxiety starts to creep in. And even though it's a rare friend who will actually tell you, "you look terrible," all that collective fat talk about themselves doesn't help how you feel about yourself. If my size-two friend thinks she's fat, what does she think about me?
In an ideal world, we can surround yourself with loved ones who don't want to judge or change you, or themselves. But it can be kind of tricky when pretty much everyone is struggling to accept their own bodies.
So what can you do to help turn the tide?
For starters: "Remember that it's not about you," says Val Frankel, body image memoirist and author of It's Hard Not to Hate You. "Even if it is about you -- your friend actually says you're fat -- it's not really about you." Whether she's attacking herself, you, or a celebrity who looks too skinny, your friend needs to tear apart women's bodies because she's insecure about her own body. "As she's talking, just keep distancing yourself and thinking, thank God, this is her issue and it has nothing to do with me."
Also recognize that while you're staving off fat talk in your quest for a better body image, she's engaging in fat talk because she (mistakenly) thinks it will be cathartic or amusing or otherwise make her feel better about her body. Same goal, different strategies. You've been there.
And when it comes time to respond to your friend's fat talk? Frankel suggests keeping it simple with a sincere: "I think you [or /I/she/he] look great." No need to be the weird preachy girl giving an impassioned speech about why you're anti-fat talk (unless they ask). Sure, you may feel like a buzz kill, offering a compliment when everyone else is enjoying some good old-fashion body snarking. But that's exactly the point. If you stop and think about it, "I think [you/I/she/he] look great" is a pretty powerful phrase -- because it's exactly what you and your friends most need to hear.