Q. I have a friend who is 17 years old. She is absolutely beautiful from head to toe. Everyone who knows her agrees that she is a beautiful person and should change nothing about her appearance.
Any time anyone tells her that she is beautiful, she almost always responds with a terse, “No.” Any similar compliments yield similar responses.
I feel as though I may be the only friend who is concerned about this. When I confronted her she said, “I know I’m beautiful. I just can’t see it.”
I know she has flirted with anorexia in the past; recently she has become more adamant about her lack of beauty, and I am becoming more worried. I understand teenage girls have some self-esteem issues, but is it normal to be this self-degrading at age 17? What should I do, if anything?
A. Self-effacement is one thing; self-degradation is something else.
However, you must imagine the awkwardness of being on the receiving end of comments that are essentially subjective and superficial. It’s challenging to respond well, and it takes years (and maturity) to learn that a simple, “Thank you, that’s nice of you” can acknowledge the comment politely while starting to shift the focus away from one’s looks.
Teen girls do seem to have self-esteem challenges, partly due to the world’s focus on female beauty. Take a girl at a supremely self-conscious age, add popular culture’s obsession with beauty, and it can seriously mess with a person’s head.
Your friend may be depressed. As her friend, you should celebrate her character assets and qualities. She should know in her heart that her true friends like her just as she is.
Otherwise you should take your concerns to an adult who can help to guide her through this challenge; if she has flirted with eating disorders, her problem is potentially quite serious.
Q. I have a friend recently admitted to a treatment facility after an attempted suicide.
Her son volunteered this information to me without my asking. I want to send her a card, but our other friends say not to, that I would be “invading her privacy” by doing so.
I want her to know I love her and support her. What to do?
A. You (and others) are overthinking this. Your friend is not well. She is in distress, and it’s foolish to pretend that you don’t know. Reach out to her by mail and say: “I’ve learned you aren’t well, and I am so sorry to hear this. I hold our friendship close to my heart, and you are very much in my thoughts.” Ask nothing of her; if she wants to reach out to you, she will.
Sometimes people get so wound up in the particulars of what to say that they forget to merely express, simply, “I’m on your side.”
Q. Thank you for the thoughtful way you have responded to men who have been sexually abused and for sharing our information with your readers. There are so many men who struggle with sexual abuse, and they do not know where to turn.
A. Every time I run a letter from a man who is a survivor of sexual abuse, scores of others contact me to tell their stories. Thank you for offering an important resource and support system for these men.