O: When it comes to food, then, we need to back off the crazy rules we make for ourselves. Be a little kinder to ourselves.
Laure: Absolutely. And kindness is a good word, because it brings up another characteristic of women who feel good naked: They're kind to other women.
O: In what way?
Laure: They can genuinely take pleasure in other women's success, happiness—and beauty. Just the other night I was eating dinner with a group of women who were speaking about another woman in our community, an attractive woman, in such a mean-spirited way that I had to excuse myself from the table. The source of that mean-spiritedness was clearly the woman's physical appearance.
O: Because when you're miserable with your own body, you've doomed yourself to "compare and despair."
Laure: It's the distorted sense that looks are everything. And women who view each other this way do a disservice to us all. When my sister and her husband were in the process of separating, at least two acquaintances reacted by telling her, in disbelief, "But you're skinny!"—as if her physique should have cushioned her from heartache. If you have friends who base everything on their own and other people's appearances, ask yourself what you're getting out of the relationship. If it's mostly stress, it's time to find different friends.
O: Have you found that women are judged more harshly by each other than they are by men?
Laure: Yes. And there's this, as well: I grew up in a houseful of women and now I'm growing older in a houseful of men, and I'm here to tell you that teenage boys might just be the vainest creatures on earth. They're every bit as freaked out by their pimples, bad hair, and extra weight as girls are. It doesn't stop when they leave adolescence, either. We all know what bald men go through, and new research from Harvard University's McLean Hospital reports that up to 25 percent of adults with eating disorders are male. So the next time you start worrying that the man in your life is going to judge you, remember that he has insecurities of his own. And he'd probably love to feel good naked, too.
Laure Redmond, a self-esteem coach based in Portland, Oregon, is the author of Feel Good Naked (Fair Winds) and the founder of Self-Esteem Saves You, a program for teenage girls.