Attitude to one’s own body seriously affects self-esteem. How to think about appearance in order to accept yourself with all the features? Psychologist Jessica Alleva shares the results of a recent study that helps direct thoughts in a positive direction.
The way we think about our body is important, says Jessica Alleva, a psychology teacher and researcher of the relationship between a person and his own body. “Studies of our laboratory at the University of Maastricht (Netherlands) showed that a more positive attitude to your body is obtained if you think not about how it looks, but about what it is capable of.”
During the project, 75 women and men aged 18 to 25 years were randomly divided into groups. Some participants had to write about the functionality of the body – about what it can do. Others described their appearance – how the body looks. Then the psychologists analyzed the texts.
Among the subjects who wrote about the functionality of their body, the majority positively assessed its capabilities. They mentioned functions that are significant for them, which allow them to perform useful actions or move in space, assessed the endurance of the body, which can adapt to various circumstances – for example, lack of sleep. Many subjects found their bodies “normally functioning.” The participants also remembered what important “backstage” work the body does (for example, pumps blood) and what pleasure it gives when hugging with a partner, dancing and other pleasant activities.
Participants who wrote about their own appearance actively checked their appearance with what they considered to be a “normal” appearance. Positive assessments were also found in this group, however, the subjects more often spoke of their body as a “project” that needed to be worked on, for example, with the help of diets, makeup, or cosmetic procedures. Some expressed gratitude for their appearance, mentioning unique traits and physical characteristics that reflect ethnicity.
It turns out that what we focus on: on the functional capabilities of our body or on how it looks – can give rise to different thoughts about it.
Focusing on what our organisms can do can contribute to a more positive attitude towards the body.
Although in describing their appearance some women and men also gave positive assessments to their body and expressed positive feelings for it, in general, potentially problematic trends were observed in their texts. Comparison of appearance, reflections on evaluations by other people and the perception of the body as a “project” can strengthen a negative attitude towards it.
This is the first such study based on written reviews. It is important to remember that it was attended by young people who may not yet have experienced problems with the functionality of the body – such as physical illness or age-related changes. Perhaps that is why it was much easier for them to positively describe the capabilities of the body, rather than its appearance.
Nevertheless, their findings are supported by another study that was conducted in another target group – in women with rheumatoid arthritis. It showed that the concentration of the subjects on what their organisms are capable of doing, despite physical symptoms or problems, even in the presence of health problems, can contribute to a more positive attitude towards the body.
Jessica Alleva and her colleagues plan to conduct new research to confirm the identified trends and obtain more accurate information. “In the future, it will be interesting to learn how different groups of people describe their bodies in terms of functionality and appearance,” she comments.