New Study Finds Writing Personal Letters About One’s Body Can Boost Body Positivity

Researchers studying body positivity in women understood what could negatively affect a woman’s body image, but found that they were short on solutions for how to improve it. Thus,  to examine how to boost confidence, a team at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences tested a series of writing exercises and published their findings in the Psychology of Women Quarterly.

In the first phase of the study, which involved about 500 college-age women, participants were asked to write a compassionate letter to themselves from the perspective of an unconditionally loving friend. Another letter described their body specifically, while a third letter was about the gratitude they felt toward it. The results showed that all three letters boosted satisfaction with the body, as reported by the researchers. Writing the letters took 15 minutes.

A separate study involving over 1,000 college-age women condensed the letter-writing exercise into an online activity where participants wrote sentences, rather than paragraphs, about themselves.

Renee Engeln, a professor of instruction in psychology at Weinberg and an author of the study, told Newsweek that this study shows us that a quick, free and enjoyable intervention can boost body satisfaction and positive mood among women who might be struggling with body image. Taking some time to reframe thoughts about your body in self-compassionate terms can be powerful.

More research is required in order to see whether the exercises would have the same results in people of different ages and genders, she noted.

Engeln also explained that they still don’t know how long these positive effects last. It’s likely that those who wish to hold on to the good feelings and attitudes that result from this activity would need to revisit their letters or add to them, to prolong the effects over time.

The researchers hope that the practice will be turned into an app that can be used when a person is struggling with appreciating and respecting her body.

Engeln added that the good news is that we can all practice thinking about our bodies in different ways and we can work to treat our bodies with kindness, understanding and forgiveness—the same qualities we show to the people we love.



Image Credit: Syda Productions / Shutterstock


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