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Embrace Self-Compassion for a Better Body Image

Jonathan Riley

“You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” — Louise Hay

In the age of social media, we are surrounded by idealised images of beauty more than ever before. These images can create unrealistic expectations, leaving us feeling insecure and self-conscious about our appearance. As a result, it is no surprise that the majority of people are self-conscious about some aspect of their appearance. We are bombarded daily by media images that objectify human bodies throughout our lives. Numerous studies have shown that images in the media and on social media can have a negative impact on how we feel about ourselves and lead to a negative body image. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, relationship problems, and substance abuse have all been linked to body dissatisfaction.

We are usually our harshest critics when it comes to our bodies and appearance. Self-critical, self-deprecating, and self-blaming statements can often be found in the inner world of someone struggling with body dissatisfaction. If we spoke to our friends the way we speak to ourselves about our bodies, we probably would have few if any friends.

Physical beauty is emphasised as one of the most important characteristics in Western culture. In fact, people’s self-esteem is largely determined by their ability to meet societal standards of ideal beauty, and if they fail to do so, their sense of self-worth suffers. Juliana Breines Ph.D suggests that self-compassion may be particularly helpful for easing appearance-related concerns and promoting a positive body image. Many people fear self-compassion because they believe their self-criticism motivates them. As a result, our culture reinforces the message that we must be harsh with ourselves in order to motivate ourselves. It may act as a temporary motivator, but it is ineffective in the long run.

Here’s an example of how the mind works when it comes to body dissatisfaction.

Self-compassion has been proven to be effective to alleviate the experience of pain and suffering from negative body image and promotes self-acceptance. The practice of self-compassion can make all the difference in helping a person to nurture a compassionate voice to counter the self-critical one. Self-compassion can improve body image by providing people with a different way of valuing themselves. Understanding and acknowledging that we are not alone in our struggles with body dissatisfaction is central to self-compassion. It’s important to remember that everyone has insecurities and doubts about their appearance, even those who we consider to have the “ideal body.” When we recognise the common experience that we all share in this way, it helps us to feel less pain because it reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering.

Here’s an example of how the mind works when it comes to body dissatisfaction and self-compassion.

Self-compassion can help us recognise that even if we are struggling with body dissatisfaction at this present moment, we can be patient with ourselves as we work towards becoming a healthier person. If we find ourselves overeating or not eating enough, we can show compassion to ourselves and make changes to improve our wellbeing. For example, if we overeat or under-eat, we can tell ourselves “It’s ok we will do better with our next meal”. If we didn’t get to the gym, we can tell ourselves “It’s ok we will try again tomorrow”. Research shows that the more compassion we show ourselves, the more likely we will change our habits.

By practicing self-compassion, we can change our negative body image to a positive body image and learn to accept ourselves just as we are in the present moment. As we begin to focus less on our appearance and comparing ourselves to others, we can free up our mental energy to focus on living our best lives.


Breines , J. (2017, March 3). 5 Ways Self-Compassion Promotes a Healthy Body Image. Psychology Today.

Cox, M. (2018, October 6). Cultivating Self-Compassion to Build a Positive Body Image. Kindful Body.