According to a new study, changing the way we approach and think about our bodies could help us to feel more positive about it.
A quarter of women in the UK recently revealed that they don’t feel comfortable in their own skin because they don’t meet ‘typical’ beauty standards, while a third of women have cancelled a social event because they were suffering with a lack of confidence.
Whether it’s our weight, skin, height, hair or body shape, for some long-time women have been taught to judge our body on the way it looks – and while some great new campaigns and initiatives are working to change some of the negative ways we think, many of us still struggle with feelings of negativity and disappointment when we look at ourselves in the mirror. And despite the variety of influencers championing body positivity and advocating for self-love, it can sometimes feel like the time when we’ll love our reflection is still a while off.
But what if we were to stop focusing on what we see in the mirror completely? What if, instead of describing, talking and thinking about our bodies in terms of their visual qualities, we started thinking about their physical abilities – and the incredible things they can do?
A new study by researchers from the Maastricht University and the University of Gothenburg advocates for just that. According to their research, which sampled a group of 75 women and men between the ages of 18 and 25, when we think about what our bodies are capable of doing – compared to how they look – it can help us to feel more positive about our bodies.
During the study, the researches asked the participants to write about either what their body can do (the functions it performs, etc) or what their body looks like. They then analysed the words and descriptions used to identify any common themes across the responses. What they found was revealing.
Among the people who were asked to write about their body functions compared to their visual attributes, most made positive comments about what their body could do, and added why they were meaningful to them by, for example, describing how their body allowed them to get certain places or how it’s resilient under difficult circumstances.
However, among the participants who were asked to describe their bodies visually, there was a lot more comparison. Whereas any comparison made in the former group tended to highlight the things their body was especially good at, the people who described their bodies visually tended to evaluate their physique in terms of how it measured up to a “normal” physical appearance, and often described their body as a kind of “project” to be worked on, either by losing weight or applying makeup. A number of the participants also described what other people thought about their appearance.
When we focus on what our bodies do for us – rather than what they look like to other people – it seems it’s easier for us to appreciate all the amazing parts of our bodies. Whether it allows us to gain a newfound appreciation for our strength, fall in love with our “flaws”, or take the time to wonder at all the great things our body allows us to do, thinking about our body’s capabilities allows us to appreciate all the small miracles we achieve on a day to day basis just by being alive.