Ways to Stay Body Positive Around People Who Have a Bad Body Image
Long before Megan Jayne Crabbe became a body positivity advocate, author, and social media sensation with over 1.3 million followers, she was a teenage girl with anorexia. But even after Crabbe recovered from the deadly disease often marked by restrictive eating, intense fear of weight gain, and distorted body image, she struggled with self-acceptance.
When Crabbe discovered body positivity, it changed her world view. Being body positive centers on seeing all bodies as inherently “good” and recognizing that every person deserves love and self-confidence regardless of societal beauty standards.
“Before learning about body positivity, I had entire friendships that were built on diet culture and shared body hatred!” says Crabbe, who lives in Essex, U.K. and was formerly known on the internet as BodyPosiPanda. “Thankfully, most of my friends got on board with body acceptance quite quickly because they could see how much happier I was in myself.”
Crabbe’s experience and her decision to prioritize her own health and happiness over a few friends’ ingrained beliefs begs the question: What do you do when you’re body positive and the people around you aren’t? And what can you do to maintain your own physical and mental well-being in a world that so often still reinforces — and sometimes even celebrates — disordered body beliefs?
How to Stand Your Ground in Body Positivity
Because diet culture and body negativity are so common, it can feel impossible to escape the echoes of fatphobic talk, self-deprecation, and judgmental critiques of others’ bodies. But a little preparation and planning may actually help spare your mental health and prevent you from falling victim to toxic topics of conversation.
“The best strategy is having a strategy — seriously,” says Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Alyssa Mass, MFT. “If you have a healthy body image, then please don’t internalize other people’s not so healthy ones. This is not a club you want to belong to and if you’ve stayed out this long, good for you!”
Many of us have been conditioned to engage in negative self-talk. Think of the scene in the movie Mean Girls in which friends bond over statements like “My hips are huge,” “I hate my calves,” and “My nail beds suck!” But Mass says it is possible to be a compassionate friend while protecting your own peace.
“The best way to not get into this conversation is by doing just that: not getting into it,” Mass says. “You can listen to your friends and be empathetic to their struggles without mimicking them.”
“If your friend was depressed and telling you everything that was wrong with her life, would you think those same things about yours? Probably not. If you need to change the conversation, do it. If you need to leave the room, or put on headphones, do it. Seek out conversations you do want to be a part of. The most you can say to a friend is, ‘I hear you, even though I don’t agree with you. Is there something else we can do or talk about that would shift this energy?’”
Sideline Negative Body Talk
For Crabbe, staying focused on her own body positivity goals meant setting strict boundaries with those who weren’t as invested in the journey for themselves.
“There is nothing wrong with gently saying, ‘I’m trying really hard to build a more positive relationship with my body and food, and conversations about calorie counting or wanting to change our bodies can put me in a difficult headspace. Do you mind if we put those conversations to the side? I’d much rather hear about xyz!’” she says.
“If that person has any regard for your well-being, they will respect a simple and clear boundary. If they continue not to, then you’re allowed to distance yourself from that relationship physically and emotionally.”
Build Your Feel-Good Wardrobe – Now
To reinforce your own body positivity, curate a wardrobe that encourages physical comfort.
Doing that is a particularly powerful way to maintain a commitment to body positivity, no matter what kind of messages are coming in from those around you, says Amanda White, author and practice director and therapist at Therapy for Women Center in Philadelphia.
“A helpful strategy is to start dressing and caring for your body as it is right now,” White says. “So many of us spend so much time not buying or wearing clothes we like or feel good in because we are waiting to change first. Instead, ask yourself, ‘If I knew my body wasn’t going to change, what would I do differently? What would I wear, what would I do? How would I take care of myself?’”
Set Up a Safe Zone
Crabbe also suggests creating a consistent safe space free of pervasive negative body talk. This haven may help balance or even cancel out any triggering or upsetting comments. And it doesn’t have to be a physical space.
“Make sure you have a body positive refuge to return to after potentially damaging conversations — social media feeds filled with empowering voices, books you can turn to for the facts, podcasts to listen to or even just TV shows that show actual diversity,” Crabbe says. “If the diet culture voices won’t go away completely, work on drowning them out.”
Detox Your Social Media
Because so many of us spend so much time on social media, platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and more can have a profound impact on how we see ourselves. In fact, research has shown that social media use is consistently linked to having a negative body image and that, that link may strengthen over time.
But you can turn that around by choosing what type of content you engage with. Studies have also demonstrated psychological benefits to engaging with body-positive content on these same platforms.
“We are all the curators of our own social media,” Mass says. “You curate what you put out into the social media stratosphere. So curate what you take in just as carefully. Make your social bubble work for you. The unfollow button is your friend. If someone’s account is negatively impacting [you], unfollow or, at the very least, mute.”
Crabbe says that “unfollow” option is a key tool in curating a healthier social media feed. “For me, that looked like unfollowing the celebrities who are known for being impossibly beautiful, unfollowing the influencers who sell diet products. The people you follow should make you feel empowered, inspired, challenged in a healthy way, and less alone. Otherwise, what are you even there for?”
Seek Different Voices
White also encourages people to seek out new and diverse voices in social media spaces who may help dismantle some of the body negativity that is so present in mainstream culture.
“Follow people of all different body types, sizes, and abilities,” White says. “Unfollow people or brands that negatively impact how you feel about yourself or who push diets or weight loss.”
To seek out supportive, empowering voices, Mass suggests researching certain hashtags on platforms like Instagram and TikTok. You may discover like-minded people with similar goals and values.
“Following #bodypositive is an easy start but, have fun with it,” she says. “Go outside your comfort zone and find some accounts with messages that echo how you wish you spoke to yourself. Let those be the voices you read/hear/digest.”
It’s a Process
It took some people in Crabbe’s life more time to come around to the concept of body positivity and challenge “their own internalized fatphobia and reluctance to let go of the beauty standard,” Crabbe says. And other friends “have had a harder time letting go of the cultural messages they’ve heard their whole lives conflating weight with worth,” Crabbe says.
“I only have a couple of friends who are still actively invested in diet culture. But we both recognize a boundary is necessary in our conversations when it comes to negative diet and body talk,” she says. “Ultimately, when I decided to dedicate myself to body acceptance, I knew in my heart that I was willing to lose people if necessary. Because any friends I had who weren’t rooting for my healing and happiness within myself probably weren’t the friends I should have anyway.”
As Crabbe has continued on her own journey of body positivity, she’s learned many lessons about staying true to her own principles both as a role model and as a human being committed to her own self-love evolution.
For those struggling to find their own voice in a society that’s so often flooded with harmful body image beliefs and messages, she offers some words of encouragement.
“You’re on the right team,” Crabbe says. “The rest of them will catch up eventually.”