Wouldn't it be great if women could cultivate a sense of self grounded in more than the way we look? The million-dollar question is, how? Clinical psychologist Rita Freedman, PhD, and psychotherapist Phyllis Cohen offer smart ways to handle common scenarios.
When your sister says: I hate my thighs—you're so lucky you didn't get Mom's legs.
Your automatic response: Don't be silly. Your thighs are fine.
A better response: I don't think there's anything wrong with your thighs, but I know how you feel. I used to obsess over my arms, and then I realized I was wasting a lot of energy on something I couldn't do much about. Now I do push-ups a couple of times a week and leave it at that. Do you think maybe pants with a different cut would make you feel better? We could go shopping next week and then see the show at that new gallery downtown.
(This kind of empathetic answer acknowledges your sister's feelings, offers a potential solution, then shifts the conversation to a new topic.)
When your daughter says: Do I look fat in these jeans?
Your automatic response: No. But maybe if you combed your hair, you'd look better.
A better response: I don't think you look fat, but it sounds like you feel uncomfortable. Is there something about the jeans you don't think is flattering? Show me what you see in the mirror. [Stand with her in front of a mirror, so you're both looking at the same image.]
(You want her to know you're taking her concerns seriously. Don't be afraid to give feedback. If she says, "My stomach is hanging over the top of these jeans"—and it is—you can say, "I see what you mean" and make a suggestion about a style that might work better.)
When your colleague says: That woman [nodding at a passerby] doesn't have the figure to be wearing a wild print. She looks like a piñata.
Your automatic response: That's exactly why I own five black suits.
A better response: I don't know about the print, but at least she has great posture. We should all walk with such confidence.
(Steer your colleague away from judging other women by showing her that there are things to admire other than an enviable figure.)