5 Ways Self-Compassion Promotes a Healthy Body Image

When it comes to appearance, we’re often too hard on ourselves.

In this age of social media, we’re surrounded by idealized images of beauty more than ever before. These images can create expectations that are impossible to meet, leaving us feeling inadequate and ashamed about our own looks. It’s no surprise, then, that a majority of young women and many men feel insecure about some aspect of their appearance.

As “normal” as body dissatisfaction may seem, it can have serious negative effects. For some people, it can lead to eating disorders or other mental illness. But even if it doesn’t reach those extremes, it can detract from quality of life in other ways. For example, research has shown that body image concerns can impair academic performance and reduce sexual pleasure in both men and women.

One way to address body dissatisfaction is to change the way we think about our bodies, shifting the focus from evaluation and critique to care and appreciation. Recent research suggests that self-compassion may be particularly helpful for easing appearance-related concerns and promoting a positive body image. Here are five ways it works.
1. It puts media images into perspective. One major source of body shame comes from taking media images of beauty to heart and feeling compelled to live up to them. In one study, self-compassionate women were less likely to internalize media pressure to be thin or to engage in disordered eating related to media exposure. But self-compassion goes beyond simply turning the tables on which body types are valued and which ones are disparaged. Instead, it involves acknowledging that beauty comes in many forms, and that no one is perfect.

2. It helps us stay in tune with our physical states. Attention is a limited resource: When we’re focused on how our body looks, we’re often less aware of how it feels—and therefore less in touch with signs of hunger and fullness, feelings of pleasure and pain, and even the sensation of our heartbeat. Research suggests that self-compassion is associated with lower levels of self-objectification, the tendency to habitually take an observer’s perspective on one’s own body rather than experiencing it from the inside out.

3. It makes us appreciate what our bodies can do. Because self-compassion is rooted in a genuine sense of care and concern for our psychological and physical well-being, it should lead us to view our bodies as precious and motivate us to be loving and kind to our physical selves, rather than harshly self-critical. Consistent with this idea, one study found that participants who completed three weeks of self-compassion meditation training reported an increase in body appreciation, which involves feelings of body acceptance and respect.

4. It reduces self-punishment. Being compassionate about perceived body flaws doesn’t necessarily take away their sting, but it can minimize the extent to which feeling unattractive makes people feel worthless or undeserving. In one study, exposure to a self-compassion intervention reduced the extent to which participants based their self-worth on their appearance, and in another, participants who were more self-compassionate about a perceived body flaw were less likely to report that they turned down a chocolate candy (offered by the experimenter) in order to punish themselves.

5. It makes other people allies, not competition. One of the key components of self-compassion is common humanity, which refers to the recognition that other people struggle too. That friend who seems to always look perfect on social media is probably spending a lot of time behind the scenes setting up their shots and deleting outtakes—and might have plenty of insecurities of their own. When other people become targets of social comparison and competition, we might miss what’s really going on with them under the surface, and we might berate ourselves for failing to live us to standards that aren’t even real.

Specific practices for increasing appearance-related self-compassion are described in this article and are available here under Practices. Research suggests that making a habit of these practices can lead to lasting improvements in body image. 

Source: Juliana Breines Ph.D for Psychology Today 

Self worth and relationships

Ever find yourself looking to someone else – maybe a love interest – to validate you? Find that your sense of self is deeply tied to how much attention they pay you? Feel buoyed when they notice you and crushed when they seem to lose interest? We’ve all been there. It sucks. It’s exhausting, it’s damaging, and it’s got a lot to do with our sense of self worth. 

When we get rejected, treated poorly, or someone blows hot and cold in a relationship with us, we often become stuck and fixated on that person. We become convinced that we’re in love and we try over and over again to prove ourselves, to show the objects of our affection that we are worthy of their love and attention.

We often don’t recognize that the reason someone isn’t interested in us may have absolutely nothing to do with us at all. We tend to internalize the rejection that it must be because we’ve been seen, evaluated and judged as not good enough and that they are no longer interested.

When this happens, our interest in this person can turn into a fevered obsession and we can go to great lengths to get them to notice us. We may engage in shape shifting behaviours where we stop being ourselves and try to turn into whatever we think they might like best. We will jump through hoop after hoop hoping to demonstrate just how special and unique we are, so that they will change their minds about us.

We don’t focus on whether or not this is a good situation for us. If it’s going to make us happy or that our needs and wants are even being met. All we’re focusing on is this feeling that they don’t want us when we should be focusing on whether we do (or don’t) actually want them, because first and foremost a healthy relationship must have two people that actually want to be in it (and have you ever stopped to wonder that the chances are if you actually had them, you probably wouldn’t want them anyway?)

When we look to others to show us our worth, they are always going to fall short, and so are we. Primarily, because it’s no one else’s job to give us our self-esteem – that’s up to us. Secondly, people are mostly self-interested: they don’t care about how you feel about you – the fact that you are jumping through hoops and treating them like they are the greatest thing since macadamia nut butter (I bant) is a huge ego boost for them, and you gaining self-respect changes the dynamics of the relationship. 

Here’s where it gets weird and can really mess with your brain: when they notice that you have stopped jumping, it doesn’t serve them and they don’t want that, so you may well find that they will deliberately or inadvertently behave in a manner that keeps you stuck and fixated on them.
When we have low self-esteem we have become so comfortable with our own negative thoughts and beliefs about ourselves that we will actually seek out people and situations that confirm those beliefs. It’s the devil we know and it feels familiar and like home. We have become so used to the idea that love equals pain and that what we are calling love is actually us seeking validation and begging to have someone show us our worth.

Could it be that if someone healthy did show up in our lives that was interested in us and was offering us the relationship that we claim we want, there’s a chance we would run like hell, because it goes against everything that we believe about ourselves and we would feel incredibly uncomfortable? And that instead we inadvertently seek out people that evoke those feelings of unworthiness in us? 

The problem is when someone can’t make up their mind about us, the price we pay, trying to convince them – or ourselves – that we’re good enough, is our self-esteem. The mere fact that we are going to all this effort proves to them that we actually aren’t worthy, because if we were, we would know our own worth and we would’ve told them to take a hike long ago.

When you engage with a fence sitter, or continue in a relationship with someone that treats you poorly, you will find that there is always another obstacle, another reason, why they can’t give you the relationship you want or the respect you deserve. You pay the price and the payoff for you is that you get to continue to confirm to yourself that you aren’t good enough. You will end up feeling used and like you are just someone’s option for a rainy day.

It becomes a never ending cycle and you may go from relationship to relationship and find yourself in the same situation, with the same guy, who just happens to have a different face.

It’s taken me years – literally decades – of hearing the theory and of trying to put into practice the belief that I alone determine my worth, that I deserve more than just crumbs of someone’s attention and that only when I treat myself in a loving, respectful way, others may start to follow my lead – although I hasten to add that that’s a nice by-product, not the reason. The reason is my quality of life, my sense of self, my mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and my continued long term recovery from addiction and childhood trauma. 

It has been, and sometimes continues to be, SO DAMN HARD to change the way that I feel about me, but it’s only since the shift came that I slowly stopped seeking validation and relationships from unwilling sources. 

Social media is a minefield for anyone with fragile self esteem because it’s completely set up to feed a need for external validation (I am still a sucker for those little red dots that say I have x amount of “likes” and have to work lovingly with myself to recognize that pattern and see what’s going on, and spend some time reminding myself that they don’t define my value either within or outside of the online world). It’s a work in progress. I’m committed to it. 

Healthy people don’t sit around wondering why someone doesn’t want them. They are too busy living their lives, strutting their stuff in the radiant knowledge that they are MAGNIFICENT, regardless of what anyone else thinks of them. 

Who’s On The Mat? Meet Christine

  
 Allow us to introduce you! 

My name is Christine and I am a 40 year old copywriter from Stellenbosch. 

My favourite asana is the ‘half lord of the fish pose’, specifically when you can grab your toes with your opposite hand. I feel so powerful, when twisted 😉

Your least fave asana?

This must be the downward dog or as I call it the dying dog. I can’t say why, but definitely my struggle pose. I try to do a downward dog once a day at home.

How did you get into yoga? 

I am inquisitive by nature and I was driving down die Laan when I saw Nicci’s notice.

What does your practice mean to you?

Yoga has taught me so much about myself, but mainly it taught me to accept and love myself.

What floats your boat about our studio? 

I love the studio, it is everything I imagined a yoga studio to be, or rather what I wanted it to be. Apart from her wonderful classes, Nicci is not only a yoga instructor to me, but a friend. I love her sense of humour and the honesty that she brings to her classes.

So, between friends, something that not many people know about you? 

I can’t sing. I can guarantee world peace by singing a few lines from a song. Also the reason behind my silent ohms!

Any final thoughts? 

If you haven’t started with yoga yet, my advice is get a mat and join us!

Thanks for these words, Christine. It’s really wonderful to see how committed you are to your practice, how it works for you, and how you embrace it – even the dying dog 😂. Here’s a little picture just for you: