Women who tolerate and accept what others may see as imperfections in their bodies have a more positive body image, a new study finds.
The study also found that women who were more compassionate towards themselves found it easier to cope with everyday setbacks and personal disappointments (Kelly et al., 2014).
Self-compassion may be an important component in helping women avoid unhealthy eating practices that may lead to eating disorders.
Professor Allison Kelly, the study’s lead author, said:
“Women may experience a more positive body image and better eating habits if they approach disappointments and distress with kindness and the recognition that these struggles are a normal part of life.
How we treat ourselves during difficult times that may seem unrelated to our bodies and eating seems to have a bearing on how we feel about our bodies and our relationship with food.”
For the research, 153 undergraduate women completed a series of questionnaires about their weight, self-esteem, body image, eating behaviours and their actual height and weight.
Crucially, the researchers also measured their self-compassion.
Professor Kelly explained the results:
“Regardless of their weight, women with higher self-compassion have better body image and fewer concerns about weight, body shape or eating.
There is something about a high level of acceptance and understanding of oneself that helps people not necessarily view their bodies more positively, but rather acknowledge their bodies’ imperfections and be okay with them.”
Psychologists have found that eating disorders are frequently related to low self-esteem.
Self-esteem, though, can be difficult to change when people believe they are below average.
While attempting to boost one’s self-esteem can work in the short-term, it is hard to maintain when faced with the inevitable knock-backs life sends our way.
Boosting self-compassion, though, may have unique benefits since it is not based on trying to convince people they are ‘better than average’.
Rather, it is about self-acceptance, self-love and being non-judgemental.
As I’ve said previously about self-compassion:
“By being sympathetic and non-judgemental towards the self, people [can] avoid both harsh self-criticism and potentially fragile self-enhancement.
This may be because self-compassion builds a more balanced way of reacting to both failures in ourselves and difficult situations we find ourselves in.” (From: The Surprising Motivational Power of Self-Compassion.)
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: nosha