Spirituality & Health Magazine

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Tue, October 07 2014

For a Positive Body Image, Choose Self-Compassion over Self-Esteem

By:
Traci Pedersen

“Beauty is perfect in its imperfections, so you just have to go with the imperfections.” —Diane Von Furstenberg

A new study by researchers at the University of Waterloo has touched on a somewhat taboo question: ‘What if women were to accept themselves with deep self-compassion—flaws and all?’ In other words, what if we looked upon ourselves with kindness, compassion and forgiveness as we would a loved one or a dear friend? Would we gain a more positive body image? The answer is yes.

For the study, researchers asked 153 female college students to answer questions about their height and weight as well as their perceived levels of self-compassion, self-esteem, body image and their eating behaviors.

According to the findings, women with strong self-compassion had a more positive body image regardless of body mass index (BMI). In fact, women who accepted their imperfections were found to be better at handling life in general, as they more easily tackled negative events and setbacks in their personal lives.

The study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that self-compassion can offer unique benefits that self-esteem cannot. This is because self-esteem is the practice of seeing yourself as above average. And in a world that is constantly comparing, keeping a high level of self-esteem may feel more like a never-ending challenge than a relief.

“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,” said lead author Professor Allison Kelly of the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo.

In fact, women can experience a more positive body image and healthier eating habits if they approach life’s disappointments with kindness and the understanding that these struggles are a normal part of life, added Kelly.

The study may have far-reaching implications. The researchers believe that teaching self-compassion to young women may help protect against eating disorders and unhealthy dieting.

So the next time you find yourself thinking not-so-nice thoughts about yourself or your body, stop and practice self-compassion. Treat yourself as you would a person that you love dearly (a friend, child, sister), because you are also deserving of your warmth, acceptance and unconditional love.

The study is published in the journal Body Image.

Traci Pedersen's picture

Traci Pedersen is a professional freelance writer who specializes in psychology, science, health, and spiritual themes.  Some of her most recent work includes covering the latest research news in science and psychology, writing science chapter books for elementary students, and developing teacher resource books.  When she is not researching and writing, she is spending time with her family, reading anything and everything, and going to the beach as often as possible.