Individuals with a high level of self-compassion are mindful and typically kind as well as nurturing toward themselves. Essentially, self-compassion allows individuals to be okay with imperfections and resistant to threats of inadequacy. Self-compassion is a holistic concept, which correlates to individuals’ frequency of body comparison, level of body appreciation, and appearance of self-worth. When an individual frequently compares their body to others and/or allows their appearance to weigh-in on their self-worth, they are less likely to have an appreciation for their body. However, high self-compassion helps individuals appreciate their bodies and curbs the negative effects of both body-related social comparisons and self-worth contingent on appearance.
Many of us value and enjoy attraction—physically, socially, and psychologically. Indeed, culture and media play a role in the development of what we are attracted to, but that influence should not negate our sense of ownership of our attractions. Likewise, external influences affect our view on care, concern, compassion, and acceptance. If we looked differently than we currently do, we would consequently think, behave, and feel differently. This understanding should allow us to remain cognizant of the influence of society. The fact is, others’ acceptance of us shapes who we are. Think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Aside from the simple fact that “belonging” is a human need, self-actualization is not likely to occur during our pre-teen and teen years (and can arguably never be fully attained). Thus if verbal instruction, imitation, and prosociality positively correlate with performance and success, as children and teenagers, we are influenced to be acceptable to others.
Before any of us begin the process of self-actualization, we have embarked on the navigation of self-compassion and sought esteem through recognition and/or achievement. What is commonly not addressed concerning the relationship between the media, self-compassion, and body image, is the simple fact that our bodies are one of the best indicators of the fulfillment of physiological needs. Parenting and family dynamics play a substantial role in the progression of one’s self-compassion. Beyond all of the research and barring psychological abnormalities, parents are responsible for being responsible, which means understanding the negative influences of life, including those stemming from society at large, and educating and empowering their children. Though as a society we continue to “advance” in our understandings of the world, we often get wrapped up in “what’s next” versus tradition. We often think of “how things use to be” as simplistic, unenlightened artifacts; in reality, your grandmother pronouncing delight in how “plump” you looked was likely an expression of her contentment based on you appearing healthy.
As a society, we seem to be more and more conscious of how others feel. The voices of the masses are being heard through social media at a rate I am not sure we are ready for. This is likely due to those voices rarely telling us to look inside of ourselves. Those voices seldom blaming themselves or taking responsibility. Those voices all too often resemble a cantilever towards a problem they can’t change versus projected inward, at the one thing they matter-of-factly can (change). Is it realistic or helpful to blame candy bar commercials for obesity, the clever design of a cigarette package for cancer, or someone who is fit for an unhealthy person’s shame? By the end of every day, until the end of time, individuals will be faced with external factors and in each instance, each individual has a choice. Until we accept responsibility we will find it very difficult to achieve self-compassion and nearly impossible to obtain self-actualization. I am not suggesting any other steps or efforts are unnecessary, rather merely highlighting where we should begin.
Additional Resources (paid links)
Dean, L. G., Kendal, R. L., Schapiro, S. J., Thierry, B., & Laland, K. N. (2012). Identification of the social and cognitive processes underlying human cumulative culture. Science, 335(6072), 1114-1118. doi:10.1126/science.1213969
Homan, K. J., & Tylka, T. L. (2015). Self-compassion moderates body comparison and appearance self-worth’s inverse relationships with body appreciation. Body Image, 151-7. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2015.04.007
Koltko-Rivera, M. E. (2006). Rediscovering the later version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Self-transcendence and opportunities for theory, research, and unification. Review of General Psychology, 10(4), 302-317. doi:10.1037/1089-26188.8.131.522
Jordache Williams is currently based in Rock Hill, SC and is the Program Manager for Atlas Concepts, LLC. He is a Certified Life Coach and holds a Master’s Degree in Human Services.