Is Bad Body Image Contagious? [Body Blog]

Remember that scene in Mean Girls, when all the plastics park themselves in front of the mirror and start listing all their flaws? “God, my hips are huge!” “Oh please, I hate my calves.” “At least you guys can wear halters, I’ve got man shoulders!” And LiLo’s character Cady doesn’t know what to say, so she awkwardly admits that she has really bad morning breath?

That scene is so quotable and memorable (like most scenes in Mean Girls, let’s be real) because every woman has seen something like it. Sure, it’s hilarious, but it also hits home. Even if you haven’t complained about your physical flaws out loud to your friends (you probably have), you’ve almost certainly thought about them, or listened to your friends criticize their own appearances.

This kind of self-criticism is a powerful social norm. Think about it: how would you react if you heard another woman walk into the room and say, “I look fantastic today!” You might admire her confidence, but it’s more likely you’d be throwing her some serious side-eye. That kind of open confidence is seen as vanity. It makes everyone feel more comfortable to compare flaws. Bizarre, but true.

Ladies, it’s time to find a way to change these conversations. You know intuitively that they’re negative, and now there’s some serious scientific evidence to back that up. A recent study from Canada’s Mount Allison University showed that college women often adopt their friends’ body image issues. Regardless of your own features, if you’re talking to your friends about weight issues or appearance and speak negatively about your bodies, you’re likely to start seeing your own body in a more negative light. The more your friends criticize themselves, the more it hurts you. And the more you criticize, the more it could hurt your friends.

So how can you avoid dragging down your body image and all your friends’ along with it? Experts say that, when you refer to yourself, you should try to avoid negative statements. That’s pretty obvious, but it can also be a tough thing to do. Luckily, there are some productive statements you can make as well. The study actually found that women benefited from talking about their healthy habits, like visiting the gym or making positive food choices.

Moral of the story? Instead of groaning, “Ugh, I hate my flabby stomach!” try to think of the things you’re proud of. For example, “I had a great workout today! I felt strong.” Don’t pull a Cady and join the plastics.

Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. She is “that person” who starts dancing at a party when everyone else is standing around, and if there were a Facebook stalking Olympics, she would be a gold medalist. She also loves cheesy 90s music, and almost died of happiness when Vanilla Ice retweeted her. Once. Follow her on Twitter @garnethenderson.



  1. […] •Did you hear about that new contagious disease? It’s called Bad Body Image. (College Candy) […]

  2. sammmbam says:

    I always knew that I shouldn't talk negatively about my body (because I was fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of talk about how everyone is beautiful and valuable, inside and out)–but I never really put two and two together: that it really is contagious and brings others down, too.

    I mean, of course it makes sense. I distinctly remember being in the restroom in middle school; a girl next to me was inspecting her face and said, "Oh, I definitely feel a pimple coming on right there. Crap!" I immediately turned to look at my own face in the mirror and was ashamed. Whereas she could "feel" a single pimple coming in her otherwise spotless face, mine was covered with acne. I was so self-conscious in that moment…and I ruminated on it for awhile afterwards.

    And on the other hand…I do tend to gravitate more toward women who do make those positive remarks about themselves–they will highlight to me that they went to the gym today (woo!), or that they made time for themselves to relax (you go girl!), or that they went to the dining hall and didn't even eat a dessert or a slice of pizza (at this point, I applaud, teary-eyed).

    But I guess if I love hearing that from them, why don't I say those kinds of things more often?!

    Anyways…thanks for shedding some light on this! It definitely inspired some thought from me…I'm feeling pretty motivated to go make some positive conversations. :)

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  4. Caterina says:

    “At least you guys can wear halters, I’ve got man shoulders!” And LiLo’s character Cady doesn’t know what to say, so she awkwardly admits that she has really bad morning breath?

  5. Is there a day women don't compare themselves to other women? Its time to stop comparing yourself.Look at your body and see what you like about it.If its your butt,then appreciate that.If its your boobs, do the same thing.And so on.

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