Body Appreciation means accepting, respecting and holding favorable opinions about your body regardless of its appearance and societal beauty ideals. A recent meta-analysis showed that people with higher body appreciation have less depression, anxiety and eating disorders (Linardon et al, 2022).
Researchers Homan and Tylka wanted to explore variables that protect body appreciation during body-related threats. Social body comparison has been shown to be one of these body appreciation threats. Social comparison is "the process of using information about others to derive conclusions about the self" (Festinger, 1954). Several investigations have found that frequently comparing your body to others' relates to negative feelings and derogatory statements about the body. Another body-related threat the authors identify is appearance self-worth, which refers to attaching your self-worth to your appearance. This belief that your self worth depends on looking a certain way has been linked to higher body dissatisfaction, body surveillance and eating disturbance.
The investigators hypothesized that self-compassion could protect body appreciation from these body related threats (body comparison and appearance self-worth).
Self-compassion refers to "an attitude of kindness and understanding toward one’s personal disappointments and struggles" (Neff, 2003). People with higher self-compassion report less anxiety, depression, body shame and body surveillance, and report higher life satisfaction, social connectedness and motivation (MacBeth & Gumley, 2012; Neff, 2003; Daye, Webb & Jafari, 2014; Wasylkiw, MacKinnon & MacLellan, 2012). The authors reason:
"Because self-compassion has been shown to regulate negative emotions, it is likely that it can buffer women against factors that produce feelings of shame toward their bodies" (Homan & Tylka, 2015).
They argue that a compassionate attitude might help mitigate distress caused by body comparison and appearance self-worth through recognizing that all bodies are different and nearly all bodies fall short of cultural ideals, and through promoting self-kindness and understanding rather than judgment ant criticism in the face of perceived shortcomings or imperfections (Homan & Tylka, 2015).
This research therefore explored whether self-compassion moderates the effects of body comparison and appearance self-worth in body appreciation.
These were the investigators' hypotheses (Homan & Tylka, 2015):
1) Body comparison and appearance self-worth would show inverse associations with body appreciation (they affect body appreciation negatively).
2) Self-compassion would show a significant positive relationship with body appreciation.
3) Self-compassion would moderate by weakening the inverse relationships between (a) body comparison and body appreciation, and (b) appearance self-worth and body appreciation.
All of these hypotheses were correct.
Here is how this experiment was carried out:
263 female participants were collected from an online site called MTurk, which has been found to be a reliable and valid method for data collection on body image (Gardner, Brown, & Boice, 2012) and a small part of the sample were students from a psychology college. The researchers chose to study this in women, since the appearance norms women encounter daily have been found to be stronger and more persistent than those that men do.
All participants completed a survey in which self-compassion, body comparison, body appreciation and appearance self-worth were measured with valid scales (tests). Attention checks were used to secure authentic answers.
In order to test compassion as a moderator, the researchers performed two regression-based moderation analyses (a statistical procedure to determine the effect of a moderator variable between two other variables): one in which the predictor of body appreciation was body comparison, and one in which it was appearance self-worth. In both of these, self-compassion was tested as the moderator variable.
In both analyses, self-compassion significantly predicted body appreciation.
In the first moderation analysis, body comparison significantly affected body appreciation negatively. However, the level in which body comparison affected body appreciation depended on the level of self-compassion. When self-compassion was lower, body comparison was more strongly related to poorer body appreciation, and when self-compassion was higher, body comparison was more weakly associated with body appreciation.
In the second moderation analysis, the same was true for appearance self-worth. Appearance self-worth significantly affected body appreciation negatively and, once again, the level in which appearance self-worth affected body appreciation depended on the level of self-compassion. When self-compassion was lower, appearance self-worth was more strongly related to poorer body appreciation, and when self-compassion was higher, appearance self-worth was more weakly associated with body appreciation.
In short, both body comparison and appearance self-worth affected body appreciation negatively, but self-compassion helped protect body appreciation in the face of these body-related threats.
It is important to note that self-compassion can be increased. There are multiple interventions that have been shown to increase self-compassion, such as compassionate self-affirmations and compassionate mindfulness (Lindsay & Creswell, 2014; Waldo & Gruszka, 2011).
The wide-ranging benefits of self-compassion- and risks of the lack thereof- are studied in the scientific community more and more each year. A self-compassionate attitude seems to be cardinal for integral well-being.
Homan, K, J. & Tylka, T. L. (2015). Self-Compassion Moderates Body Comparison and Appearance Self-Worth’s Inverse Relationships With Body Appreciation. Body Image, 15, 1-7.
Article written by Maggie Stilman.
The Considerable Journal.
The Considerable Journal's mission is to bring relevant scientific findings closer to people who seek evidence-based paths to integral well-being, by providing briefed, straightforward expositions of scientific research regarding mental and physical health, relationships, habits, and more.