While there’s been a huge shift in marketing, social media, and entertainment toward more realistic, body-positive messages and wider representation of body types, many women still struggle to feel totally content with their bodies. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or crush a competition, it’s hard not to compare or obsess over insecurities.
“We found that spending just 15 minutes writing and reviewing one of three specific types of letters to oneself can significantly increase women’s body satisfaction—at least short-term,” said study author Renee Engeln, Ph.D, a psychology professor at Northwestern University.
Two of the letter-writing interventions focused on self-compassion—in one exercise, women wrote letters to themselves from the perspective of a close friend, and in another they wrote “a letter to their body, showing gratitude for all of its functions—everything it does to help you get through every day,” according to Engeln.
Finally, researchers simplified the instructions and made the exercise into an online form. More than 1,000 college women completed the online exercise, which had women write a series of sentences instead of a formal letter. All three studies showed that self-compassionate writing can improve how women’s positively perceive their body image. The letters women wrote were so moving to the researchers that they hope to create a larger online platform for submission and sharing.
“We think this could be a fabulous way to create a source of inspiration and comfort for women who have body image struggles,” Engeln said. “Of course, we also look forward to additional research, testing how these approaches can be implemented on a broader scale, perhaps through using a smartphone app.”
BY ROSE MCNULTY