Outward appearance ties to many people’s sense of identity and personal value. Therefore, unexpected changes to how someone looks can be difficult to handle. Injuries, medical conditions, hair loss, weight gain, and aging are some of the main catalysts for an altered physical image. Since these situations are out of your control, it is easy to feel helpless and frustrated.
While managing changes in yourself can be challenging, knowing how to support a loved one through the process is also hard. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to show your support for the people you care about battling these issues. Here are four practical tips for helping a friend, partner, or family member struggling with their changing appearance.
#1. Be a Supportive Listener
Offering your loved one validation and empathy through listening is an amazing way to show you care. Validating someone’s emotions helps them feel understood, especially if changes to their physical appearance make them feel isolated. For example, if a friend deals with hair loss, acknowledge that it is challenging, even if there are hair loss treatment options. Creating a safe space to open up about hard topics strengthens relationships and serves as a tremendous source of support.
Being a good listener will take effort and recurring intention on your part. Ask questions when it feels appropriate, and always give your undivided attention. If a family member is navigating health troubles, be curious about their condition but avoid being too invasive. Your loved one might also be open to receiving helpful feedback and your perspective. Empowering comments that challenge a person’s negative body image and societal stereotypes can reinforce positive self-perception.
#2. Offer Non-Appearance Related Praise
Finding ways to praise your loved one that doesn’t focus on physical appearance helps them understand what truly matters. Complimenting their kindness, intelligence, creativity, and sense of humor are just a few areas to focus on instead. The next time a friend makes you laugh, make a point to tell them you think they’re hilarious. Whenever you see a family member do something kind, remind them how much you admire their heart. If your partner impresses you with their in-depth knowledge on a topic, tell them how their intelligence is inspiring.
Try not to wait for a special occasion like a birthday or anniversary to tell someone how much you admire them. Finding opportunities in everyday moments will make your comments feel more genuine and thoughtful. The more personalized and specific your compliment is, the more meaningful it will be to that person. If you struggle with being vulnerable in person, a text message or sending a card are great ways to convey your praise. These reminders will let your loved one know their value is more than surface level, especially during hard times.
#3. Understand What Not to Say
Unfortunately, a well-meaning comment could come off as invalidating to someone who is struggling. You need to understand what not to say to someone navigating negative body image issues so you don’t inadvertently cause harm. Firstly, you shouldn’t tell someone affected by changes to their physical appearance that they’re being too sensitive by caring. This type of comment is invalidating and can leave the person feeling isolated and misunderstood.
You also don’t want to dismiss your loved one’s situation and feelings. Telling them that they look fantastic despite the change could also feel invalidating. In addition, try to avoid pushing toxic body positivity comments at the person. Body image issues are complex, and it isn’t as easy as just telling someone to love and accept themselves. Instead, focus on validating their feelings and asking how you can best support them.
#4. Suggest Relevant Resources
Your loved one might find it hard to know where to turn for support with their body image challenges. Researching relevant resources and sharing your findings is an effective way to offer guidance. You could start by browsing books about their specific situation and struggles. You might even buy two copies and read the book with them to grow your understanding and show solidarity. Relevant online forums and body-positive social media accounts might also be helpful to pass along.
You could also suggest therapy as a helpful way for your loved one to navigate their struggles with appearance changes. Mental health professionals offer a level of support that goes beyond what friends and family members can provide. Support groups are also immensely beneficial, especially if your loved one’s altered appearance is due to an underlying condition. Remember that each journey is unique; finding what works for your person might take some time.
Offering Love and Support
If someone you care about struggles with body image changes, it is crucial to remind them that they’re not alone. Physical appearance directly links to self-worth for many people, so changes can be difficult to process. These unplanned alterations can worsen when the person feels helpless and like the situation is out of their hands. Societal pressures and criticisms don’t make navigating these challenges any more manageable.
Your support will be crucial in helping your loved one find their way and regain confidence. The type of care you provide might differ from day to day. Creating a healthy bond makes it easier for the person to communicate what they need in the moment. Continuing to be there lets your loved one know they can count on you no matter what else might change.