Body Image and Self-Compassion

Woman working on Long-Lasting Recovery from Anorexia

Consider how you speak to and about your body. What messages do you speak, think, or internalize the most? These thoughts can affect your body image with self-compassion helping it.

Now, consider this definition of self-compassion: “self-compassion entails being moved by one’s own suffering and treating oneself in a caring and empathetic way—just as one would treat a good friend [1].”

How would you speak with a “good friend” about their body? What messages would you send them, if any? Does this align with the things you say to yourself?

If it does, you are part of the exception, not the rule. Research, sadly, finds that whether it is children, adolescents, or adults, most people are struggling with negative body image.

One study summarizes that 60% of women, and 40% of men, have negative body image and that approximately 50% of pre-adolescent girls, and 30% of pre-adolescent boys, dislike their bodies [2].

Mental health professionals are searching for treatment methods and interventions that may help improve body image. While there is no “cure-all,” it seems that teaching self-compassion has promising results.

Self-Compassion

Regardless of the mental health challenges being addressed, increased self-compassion is beneficial. Self-compassionate individuals are shown to be more psychologically healthy and have a better body image.

Not only that, self-compassion is “linked to positive psychological strengths such as happiness, emotional intelligence, optimism, wisdom, curiosity, and personal initiative” and is “associated with less rumination, perfectionism, and fear of failure [1].”

As I said, there is no “cure-all” for any mental health issue, but self-compassion is an effective trait that can be taught, practiced, and used to improve symptoms like those above and more.

Self-Compassion & Body Image Improvement

Girl with positive body image due to self-compassionAs one study points out, self-compassion “teaches individuals how to accept themselves despite their imperfections,” a skill that is invaluable to body acceptance and body love [1].

The same article goes deeper into how self-compassion can combat the internalized shame and negativity that comes with poor body image by viewing how each self-compassion component can help.

The first component examined is self-kindness, with the article remarking that: “being kind, gentle, and understanding towards oneself rather than harshly judgmental, directly counters the very root of body dissatisfaction—the tendency to criticize rather than accept one’s body as it is [1].”

Second, the self-compassion tenet of common humanity, which encourages individuals to recognize “that all people are imperfect, fail, make mistakes, and experience serious life challenges [1].” Common humanity calls for individuals uniting based on their imperfect as opposed to feeling isolated by it.

In relation to body-image, individuals would be encouraged to embrace and find strength and connection in their physical differences from others as opposed to isolated and shamed by them.

Finally, the third component of self-compassion is mindfulness and asks individuals to be aware of their pain without attempting to amplify or ignoring it.

In this, individuals can relate to their painful thoughts regarding their body without attempting to act on them, fixate on them, or over-identify with those parts of their bodies they are uncomfortable with [1].

Ultimately, self-compassion can be summarized by the question brought up at the beginning: do you refer to, address, and treat your body as you would encourage a friend to do to their own?

Do you treat your body as if it is a friend? After all, it is the first friend you have and the one that will carry you through your entire life. Consider how your life may be different if you did.


Resources:

[1] Albertson, E. R., Neff, K. D., Dill-Shackleford, K. E. (2014). Self-compassion and body-dissatisfaction in women: a randomized controlled trial of a brief meditation intervention. Mindfulness.

[2] Alleva, J. M. Et al. (2015). A meta-analytic review of stand-alone interventions to improve body image. Plos One.


About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published October 26, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on October 26, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.