Feeling down about your body? This study says try compassion instead of comparison.
As a mom of two daughters, I know that body comparisons start early.
My husband and I have tried really hard to instill a healthy body image into our children. We focus on health and what our bodies can do instead of what they look like. We try not to disparage our own physical appearance and strive to be an example of loving the bodies we're in.
But society's body-shaming messages still filter through. I've had to stop my daughters when they start comparing themselves to others. And admittedly, even I have a hard time not internally grumbling about Jillian Michaels' six-pack when I'm doing one of her workouts.
A study back in 2018 said that we can transform our own body image by transforming the way we think.
Researchers at University of Waterloo have found that women can improve their body image and create less disordered eating habits by changing their mindset from competitiveness to compassion.
According to the study's press release, which was published in the journal Body Image, "The study found that comparison-focused women who deliberately exercise compassion towards the females they compare themselves to experience less body dissatisfaction, a lower motivation to diet, and a reduced tendency to compare their appearance to those around them."
“Making comparisons with one another comes naturally to us, and in modern society, that is especially common when it comes to women and their bodies,” said Kiruthiha Vimalakanthan, a co-author of the study. But those comparisons tend to make us feel badly about ourselves.
Instead of comparison and competition, we should focus on compassion and connection.
Participants in the study, which involved 120 females of diverse ethnicities, were split into three groups and asked to engage in self-help strategies to combat negative body comparisons. One group was coached to use a "competitive" mindset, thinking of ways they were superior to the target of their comparison. One used a "caregiving" mindset to develop compassion and kindness toward the target. And the third used a "distraction" method to try to remove comparative thoughts altogether.
Of the three methods, the compassion approach proved the most effective at helping women reduce negative body comparisons. According to the release, "This study is the first to demonstrate that trying to cultivate compassion for others — by wishing them to be happy and free from suffering — may, in turn, benefit one’s own body image and eating attitudes."
We fare best when we feel less threatened and more connected to our fellow humans. So instead of begrudging Jillian Michaels and her perfectly toned abs, perhaps I'll try sharing sympathy for our shared experience of tipping over while putting on our undies. It's a start.