We already know that the type of people you hang out with can have an outsize influence on everything from your outlook on life to your behavior to even your levels of success. After all, as the motivational speaker Jim Rohn once famously said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Now, a new study published in the journal Body Image has found that those in your close orbit have a profound effect on yet another thing: how you feel about your own body.
To arrive at their conclusion, the researchers asked 92 female college-age students to keep a daily diary for one week that recorded their interactions with people who were really preoccupied with their bodies and people who were not. Participants also reflected on how these interactions influenced how much they valued their own bodies. The results indicated that those who interacted with people who were very body conscious had a negative impact on participants in both categories.
“Our research suggests that social context has a meaningful impact on how we feel about our bodies in general and on a given day,” said Kathryn Miller, a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Waterloo. “Specifically, when others around us are not focused on their body, it can be helpful to our own body image.”
The findings are important because they indicate that choosing the right people to be friends with can help women achieve better self-esteem, and perhaps decrease the likelihood of developing an eating disorder.
“Body dissatisfaction is ubiquitous and can take a huge toll on our mood, self-esteem, relationships, and even the activities we pursue,” said Allison Kelly, a psychology professor in clinical psychology at Waterloo and co-author of the study. “It’s important to realize that the people we spend time with actually influence our body image. If we are able to spend more time with people who are not preoccupied with their bodies, we can actually feel much better about our own bodies.”