Photo of a woman looking at herself in a mirror
Self compassion - the ability to be kind to yourself even when things aren't perfect - is the key to health and happiness.

Self-compassion beats self-esteem for healthy body image

22 October, 2014

Natural Health News — Regardless of their weight, women with higher self-compassion have better body image and are better able to cope with life’s ups and downs, according to new research.

Research out of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada found that this self-compassion might be an important means to increase positive body image and protect girls and young women against unhealthy weight-control practices and eating disorders.

“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,” said Professor Allison Kelly of the Department of Psychology at Waterloo, and the study’s lead author.

“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.”

This study in the journal Body Image gathered data from 153 female undergraduate students and made BMI calculations based on each woman’s self-reported height and weight.

The research team assessed levels of self-compassion, self-esteem, body image, and eating behaviours via a series of questionnaires. Results add to a growing body of literature suggesting that self-compassion might offer unique benefits that 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.

Self-compassion has been described as being aware when we’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy, despair, confusion, and other forms of stress and responding to ourselves with kindness and understanding.

“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 Professor Kelly.

This makes self-compassion a potentially effective and healthy tool  in the prevention of eating disorders and the promotion of good health for women of all sizes.