Body Shame, Body Compassion and Physical Activity
Beadle, Emily S.
Participation in physical activity in the population and especially in young people has been frequently highlighted as a concern, given the increased risk of serious health issues in people who are insufficiently active. Body image concerns and body shame have been suggested as reasons not to engage in physical activity for young people (especially girls). Self-compassion has been shown to be a useful tool in reducing body shame and dissatisfaction, similarly body compassion or body self-compassion have been suggested to be associated with exercise behaviour and body image. The present research aimed to explore the roles of body image and shame on physical activity and the potential for self-compassion and in particular compassion directed to one’s own body (body compassion) on explaining the association. First the associations between body image and physical activity in previous research findings are summarised in a scoping review. Previous research suggests an association between body image and physical activity, which appears to vary by gender, age, disability and ethnicity or race. The roles of body-related self-conscious emotions (e.g. body shame and pride) and of self-determined motives for physical activity are also suggested. The roles of body shame and pride and self-determination are described in a narrative review that suggests a role of self-compassion in predicting self-determined motives for physical activity and in reducing shame. The importance of body specific self-compassion in reducing body shame and increasing body pride is also discussed. Studies 1-3 describe the development and validation of a new measure of body compassion; the Body Compassion and Criticism Scale (BoCCS). In a sample of 728 participants aged 16-76, the factor structure of the BoCCS was examined through exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. The BoCCS was shown to have 4 subscales: (1) Body Kindness (2) Common Humanity (3) Motivated Action and (4) Body Criticism. These were shown to incorporate key elements of compassion and self-compassion. The factor structure was confirmed to be a bifactor model, whereby total score or subscales can be used. The BoCCS was also shown to have good internal consistency, construct validity and test-retest reliability (with 198 of the original participants). Differences in body compassion and its subscales were shown to differ by sex and BMI. Validation with behaviour was also demonstrated through comparison with spontaneous expressions of body compassion in a sample of 27 female undergraduates (study 2) and word use in body image writing in a sample of 45 female undergraduates (study 3). Study 4 evaluated models to predict the six self-determined motivation for physical activity regulation styles: amotivation, external, introjected, identified, integrated and intrinsic regulation. A sample of 310 participants, aged 16-76 were used to test these models. Body compassion was shown to predict these, mediated by pride shame in relation to one’s current body size as well as that anticipated if one were to gain weight. Study 5 prospectively tested three models to predict elements of physical activity behaviour: aerobic/moderate-vigorous physical activity, strength activities and adherence to overall physical activity guidelines (as recommended by the NHS). A sample of 80 participants from study 4 completed an additional measure of physical activity four-weeks after initial participation. This showed that body pride/shame in relation to one’s current body and pride/shame anticipated if one were to gain weight predicted physical activity behaviour mediated by self-determined motives for physical activity. Finally study 6 tested a brief body compassionate writing intervention to improve physical activity behaviour in young people (aged 16-25; baseline N = 103; follow-up N = 76). Four groups were examined: body image writing; body image writing plus forming of implementation intentions (II); body compassionate writing; and body compassionate writing plus II. The body compassionate writing group was shown to significantly increase their physical activity, while the other groups did not. Additionally, those who wrote about body image and formed IIs increased in body criticism and showed reduced body compassion. In conclusion body compassion has been demonstrated to be a useful tool in predicting health behaviours such as physical activity and can be implemented into an intervention to improve physical activity. Recommendations for how to build on the research shown in this thesis is discussed as well as further applications for body compassion and policy changes that would help to reduce the need for individual body compassion. A model describing the roles of body compassion, body pride/shame and motives for physical activity in predicting physical activity is developed.
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