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Exploring the experience of body self-compassion for young adult women who exercise



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Self-compassion has recently been introduced to Western psychology literature and is defined as a kind, understanding, and nonjudgmental toward oneself (Neff, 2003a). While self-compassion has been conceptualized as a construct that is important to one’s overall sense of self, it might also be relevant to more specific self-attitudes, including one’s attitude toward the body. Body-related attitudes have received much attention from sport and exercise psychology researchers in kinesiology and it was anticipated that body self-compassion would be relevant to women who exercise, as women often exercise for body-related reasons. The purpose of this study was to explore the meaning of body self-compassion for young adult women who exercise and have experienced a change in their attitude toward their body over time; and to discover the essential structure of the women’s experiences. Five women between the ages of 23 and 28 years participated in this study. The women identified themselves as Caucasian and middle-class, were university students, and indicated that they exercised at least four times a week. Each woman participated in an individual interview in which she was asked to describe two instances where she experienced body self-compassion. The women’s interviews were analyzed using an empirical phenomenology method (Giorgi, 1985; Giorgi & Giorgi, 2003) to identify the components of the women’s stories that were essential to their experience of body self-compassion. A follow-up focus group discussion provided the women with the opportunity to offer feedback on the essential structures. Four essential structures emerged from these interviews: appreciating one’s unique body, taking ownership of one’s body, engaging in less social comparison, and body self-compassion as a dynamic process. A facilitating structure, the importance of others, also emerged. The findings of this study are generally consistent with Neff’s (2003a) conceptualization of self-compassion as they reflect Neff’s overall description of self-compassion without merely replicating the three components of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. The findings of this study provide support for the exploration of more specific domains of self-compassion, such as the body. This study also makes a significant contribution to the body image literature, which has been criticized for being pathology-oriented and for focusing mainly on appearance-related attitudes (Blood, 2005; Grogan, 2006). This study explored a positive body attitude and highlighted the women’s attitudes toward their physical capabilities in addition to their appearance. Further research is needed to develop the body self-compassion construct by exploring the generalizability of the essential structures that emerged in this study to broader populations.



positive body attitude, empirical phenomenology, body image



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


College of Kinesiology


College of Kinesiology


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