What we should really say to a friend calling herself 'fat'

Jan 14, 2015 at 11:10 a.m. ET

We've all been there. We are out to dinner with our friend and suddenly she starts talking about her body. Disparaging it. Saying things that break our hearts because we love her so much and hate to hear her call herself "fat." So what's the first thing we all do? "No, honey, you look great. You aren't fat at all." And now, it turns out, that's exactly what a good friend should be saying.

New research from the Personal Relationships journal suggests that telling a friend that she looks just fine as she is, is actually far preferable to either dismissing her entirely or "encouraging" her weight loss. And don't I know it.

As women, our personal opinions of ourselves are almost entirely derived from outside influences. It's not right. It's crazy, in fact. But it's true. We listen more to other people's opinions about us sometimes than our own.

I have been feeling sluggish and bad about my body ever since having my third baby just under a year ago. I fit back into all my old clothes, but my body is different. For whatever reason, it has just not sprung back to itself as it did the first two times. Plus I have about 10 extra pounds according to the scale. I am pretty miserable.

But just hearing someone tell me how quickly I lost the baby weight or how great I look can change all that. Even when I know the truth, it helps. Meanwhile when another friend offered me the name of her nutritionist, I got a little angry.

"Was she saying I am fat?" I asked my husband later, like a crazy person. It's all in our heads, but most of us really do need that outside reassurance. I fit into size four. I know I am not "fat" and yet, unless I hear that from someone else, I don't believe it. It's maddening.

Still, for me this study reaffirms something I already more or less knew: We women need to be supporting one another. And supporting one another means assuring a friend they look great. Because it's likely they do. And on the off chance they don't? Maybe express concern rather than a weight loss plan.

It just makes sense.

What do you say when your friend says that to you?

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