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Self-Compassion For A Healthy Body Image

Self-Compassion For A Healthy Body Image JoAnne Bullard Run Tri Bike Magazine

In October 2021, a RunTriMag article “Enhancing Body Acceptance Among Female Athletes” addressed healthy coping mechanisms for female athletes. Since this is such an essential topic for female athletes of all ages, this article will serve as a follow-up, addressing the connection of self-compassion for a healthy body image and strategies to strengthen the relationship.

Pressures To Fit In

Numerous factors can impact how female athletes think about themselves, including their self-worth. Even though an athlete might be successful in training for a specific goal, they could be struggling with self-acceptance. For many, self-worth is associated with achieving a certain weight on the scale, fitting into one particular outfit, or working towards a certain physique.  Sometimes this can exist even if the athlete is surpassing their physical training goals.

The pressures of society to fit in and the demands of sport can cause a lot of athletes to struggle in understanding where they see themselves fit into the larger picture of acceptance. The pressure is often due to comparing themselves to others, which is not realistic or healthy. Athletes are impacted daily through social media, advertisements, clothing styles, and even by fitness models and social influencers. Some athletes compare their workouts, nutrition, and style to what is portrayed among the influencers and pages they follow, which can cause an athlete to become frustrated and lead to issues with their body image.

What Is Self-Compassion

A concept to understand is self-compassion. Self-compassion includes the ability for an individual to provide themselves with the same love and care as they would for a friend. The support and encouragement provided to a friend when feeling down or inadequate should be the same provided to the individual. Learning to be self-compassionate assists in engaging in a more mindful practice where individuals can understand their response or how they felt based on specific stimuli. The focus shifts to the overall perspective of the situation with no judgment.

Individuals that practice self-compassion tend to have better overall mental health. Those practicing self-compassion can actively switch their negative thoughts regarding body image into a place of acceptance. Practicing self-compassion has been found to assist individuals experiencing body preoccupation and depressive symptoms.

Getting caught-up in the comparison mindset is easy. This typically results in athletes experiencing a lack of confidence, lowered self-worth, and negative body image. Incorporating self-compassion strategies on a daily basis results in overall well-being, not only when something negative occurs. 

4 Strategies To Implement Daily To Strengthen Self-Compassion For A Healthy Body Image

  1. Thank Yourself.  Take time each day to thank yourself for the ability to be able to move as an athlete. Recognize that your body is precious and deserves special attention. Appreciate all that your body has helped you overcome. Work on acknowledging at least one aspect of your body that you are grateful for each day.
  2. Remove Forms of Punishment or Self-Sabotage.  Unfortunately, it is easy to utilize punishment  or self-sabotage techniques when experiencing negative body image or low self-esteem. These are unhealthy behavior choices that can heighten your feeling of low self-worth. Stay aware of noticing when these behaviors occur and shift your thought from the negative mindset into an accepting, positive one.
  3. Work on Being Present.  Being aware is a primary cornerstone of self-compassion but an aspect that many overlook. In this fast-paced world, many tend to move along at warp speed, making it challenging to be truly present and focused- especially on tasks usually completed on autopilot (i.e., brushing teeth, making coffee, driving to work, etc.). Start to recognize moments throughout your day when you are not fully present and enhance your awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and physiological response during these times.
  4. Be Kind to Yourself.  Have you ever truly listened to your self-talk pattern when questioning your body image or self-worth?  Most likely we would never say those statements to a friend about their body. Why is it okay to communicate these to ourselves? Implement a thought-stopping technique to help you shift from the negative self-talk patterns into positive ones. 

Self-compassion can be an effective technique to help during these trying times. The most important thing to recognize is that enhancing self-compassion does not happen overnight. It is an ongoing process that grows as you grow. Patience and self-acceptance are crucial elements when coping with body image issues. Proactively incorporating these self-compassion strategies can help strengthen your connection with yourself. They will also serve as a reconnection when experiencing challenging times.

Dr JoAnne Bullard Run Tri Bike Magazine Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology

JoAnne Bullard is a Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. She is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

She serves as a tenured Associate Professor at Rowan University and is the owner of Absolute Fitness, LLC.  Her goal is to provide a holistically applied approach for clients through performance psychology consulting. She has experience working with athletes of all ages, including endurance athletes, in individual and group sessions.  Her research areas include mindfulness, performance anxiety, goal setting, coping strategies, and mental well-being of athletes.

She has completed five marathons, numerous half-marathons, and is always looking for her next race.