Scroll To Top

10 Ways to Support a Girlfriend with Body Image Issues

10 Ways to Support a Girlfriend with Body Image Issues

10 Ways to Support a Girlfriend with Body Image Issues

Body dysmorphia and its dangerous but popular cousin disordered eating are pretty tough to live with, but there are supportive things that can make it a bit easier.

Body dysmorphia and its dangerous but popular cousin disordered eating are pretty tough to live with, not just for the person suffering for their friends and family too. Ultimately, it’s always going to be up to the person to wrestle their demons, but there are ways to offer support that can make it a tiny bit easier for them to do so.
1.Be there
It seems obvious, but just sticking around and showing up goes a long way. Lots of people of all genders, but especially women, have really deep-seated issues around being lovable and acceptable, and given our relentlessly image-centric society these anxieties often get focused on our bodies. Simply showing up and loving somebody as a partner or as a friend, appreciating the good intellectual and emotional things about them and refusing to collaborate with their self-loathing, is one of the most powerful things you can do.
Let them talk. Don’t judge, don’t advise, don’t try to fix, don’t force them to eat or diet unless they ask you to – it’s about making the person feel accepted and loved even if their eating disorder or body dysmorphia isn’t. Obviously, if something triggers you, let them know. But it’s perfectly possible to validate someone’s feelings and also gently highlight the irrationality of their thought process or the gulf between their perceptions of themselves and yours. Giving people space to re-evaluate their self-image is a long, slow, repetitive and often difficult process, so don’t push it or feel under pressure to make it better. Just listen to what she has to say with care and compassion. 

3.Be loving and body positive
Encourage her to think of her body not just as a product that looks a certain way but as a tool. Talk about not just how her body looks but the things it can do, physically and sexually and sensually. If you think she’s beautiful, tell her so. Not necessarily incessantly or in an objectifying way, but it’s sometimes helpful to remind her that the way she sees herself and the way the outside world sees her don’t necessarily add up. People are different, though, and it’s worth figuring out – by asking directly if necessary – how she feels about compliments. It could be that telling her how much you like specific parts of her body will be helpful, or it could be massively upsetting and alienating. 
4.Stop with the food criticism
We all live in a world where food is good or bad, healthy or naughty. It’s everywhere in advertising and popular culture – ‘healthy’ salads, sinful chocolate or sweets, fruit and veg vs burgers and fries. Well, ignore it. It’s the last thing your partner needs to hear right now, even if she’s internalized it. You can be pleased and praise her for doing her best without ascribing moral value to what she puts in her mouth. 

5.And stop with the body hate
Even if the body in question is yours. It’s not helpful. Don’t try and bond over how much you hate your tummies and/or thighs. We’d hope you’re not critical about her body anyway, but regardless, stop judging anyone’s size and shape. Doesn’t matter if it’s fat shaming or skinny bitching, it’s not going to help. Don’t we all want to live in a world where who we are is worth more than what we look like? Well then.
6.Don’t join in with her critical voices
A lot of women with body image issue or eating disorders have incredibly sophisticated internal systems of self-loathing. Don’t engage. Let those feelings exist – don’t punish her for them – but don’t engage with or exacerbate them either. She’s awesome and you love her, right? The rest is just detail.

7.Make space and time for you
It can be really stressful and emotionally draining living in close proximity to someone in the grip of an eating disorder or serious body dysmorphia. Make sure you take breaks and have your own emotional support system going on – it’s easy to put yourself second all the time, and in the long run that’s not going to help. 
8. Don’t feel personally implicated by lapses into disordered eating or body dysmorphia
Both body image issues and eating disorders are ongoing battles. Whatever you do, don’t make your love contingent on recovery – there are always going to be good days and bad days, and adding to your partner’s guilt and self-loathing for any relapses is just going to make things worse. Let her know you love her however she feels about herself. It'll do much more good than pressure will.

9. Don’t feel personally threatened or judged by her body image or food behavior
Eating disorders are illnesses, and body image issues are distortions, however common they are. Sure, we live in a world where women are judged continually for their food choices, but her inability to eat or stop eating really doesn’t mean she thinks you’re fat or not providing enough love. This one really isn’t about you. The best thing you can do is try and be as loving and supportive of yourself as you are of her - don't try and meld your food habits around hers, and don't beat yourself up if she's thinner/bigger than you. Be as loving, healthy and positive as possible, and don't worry if that's sometimes not very much. Every little helps!
10. Don’t try to save her (however much you want to)
This is the kicker. Thing is, whilst you can love somebody fiercely and loyally enough to give them space to re-evaluate their feelings of self-worth and self-esteem, you can't do that for them. Ultimately we're all on our own with this stuff - but having loving, accepting and supportive folk along for the ride can make all the difference. 
Banner Image OneOut Magazine - Fellow Travelers

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories