Regardless of their body mass index (BMI), women who accept and tolerate their imperfections appear to have a more positive body image. They also seem to be better able to handle personal disappointments and setbacks in their daily lives.
This self-compassion, research out from the University of Waterloo found, could be an important way to raise positive body image and protect girls and young women against unhealthy weight-control practices and eating disorders.
Lead author professor Allison Kelly of the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, 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."
Self-compassion and Self-esteem
This study build on the growing body evidence suggesting that self-compassion may offer unique benefits which self-esteem does not. Self-esteem comes from evaluating oneself as above average, and so may be limited in helping individuals cope with perceived shortcomings.
“Regardless of their weight, women with higher self-compassion have better body image and fewer concerns about weight, body shape or eating,” said Professor Kelly. “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."
The study involved data from 153 female undergraduate students. Researchers used BMI calculations based on each participant’s self-reported height and weight. The team administered a series of questionnaires assessing levels of self-compassion, self-esteem, body image, and eating behaviours.
Eating disorder prevention and health promotion which focus on enhancing young women’s self-compassion may be an important way to foster healthier weight management across the BMI spectrum, the results suggest.
Allison C. Kelly, Kiruthiha Vimalakanthan, Kathryn E. Miller. Self-compassion moderates the relationship between body mass index and both eating disorder pathology and body image flexibility. Body Image, 2014; 11 (4): 446 DOI: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.07.005