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Writing exercises may improve body image in women

Women, please take note. If you are struggling with your body image, writing your blues may act as a positive step, a new study suggests.

Representational image

The study, published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that self-compassion and body functionality-focused letters could improve body image.


Positive body image interventions focused on telling women they are beautiful the way they are or exhorting them to "love their bodies" are often doomed to fail, said co-author Renee Engeln, Professor at Northwestern University.

According to the researchers, body dissatisfaction among women is widespread and can lead to a number of worrisome outcomes, including eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.

For the study, the researcher tested the effect of three specific writing exercises on college women's body satisfaction.

"In the first two studies, we found that spending just 15 minutes writing and reviewing one of three specific types of letters to oneself can significantly increase women's body satisfaction, at least short-term," Engeln said.

In two of the letter-writing interventions, the focus was on self-compassion. One was a basic self-compassion letter, the other was a self-compassionate letter directed specifically at the body, the researchers mentioned.

"The third type of letter-writing intervention asked women to write a letter to their body, showing gratitude for all of its functions -- everything it does to help you get through every day. Relative to control conditions, all three of these letters increased body satisfaction," the researcher added.

In the final study, the researchers turned the letter-writing instructions into a simpler, faster writing activity that could be completed online. It was the same basic idea, but women wrote a series of sentences instead of a more formal letter.

More than 1,000 college women completed the study, which once again showed that self-compassion and body functionality-focused letters could improve body image, the researchers noted.

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