As we look around, we can see that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and can do many amazing things. But if that is the case, why do many people have less-than-amazing feelings toward their bodies?1, 2
One place we need to look is at the core beliefs we have about our bodies.
Dualism is the idea that our spirits are created by God, and are good, but our bodies are sinful and bad. Embodiment, on the other hand, is the idea that both our bodies and our spirits are from God and are good.3
Examples of dualistic thoughts include:
- My body is carnal and natural so it must be inherently bad.
- My body gets in the way of me becoming a better person.
- My body is in opposition to what God wants.
- My body cannot help me get closer to God.
Examples of embodiment-centered thoughts include:
- My body and spirit can work together to become more connected to God.
- My body is something God gifted me and can help me in improving every day.
- My body is something to be celebrated because it is a gift from God.
- My body is from God so it must be inherently good.
The issue with dualistic thoughts is that they are often connected to shame.4 When we feel that our bodies are inherently bad, we automatically feel at odds with them. Thoughts of “my body is bad and keeps me from getting closer to God” turn to “I must be a bad person because I cannot completely control my body.” This shameful mentality inhibits us from respecting and appreciating our bodies because we want to turn away from that area of shame and discouragement.
Embodiment-centered beliefs, on the other hand, often connect with body sanctification beliefs.5 Sanctification is the process in which we ascribe divine meaning to regular everyday aspects of life6, in this case, to our bodies. On the opposite side of the spectrum from dualism, body sanctification is related to body appreciation.5 It’s easy to see how thoughts like “my body is a gift from God” can turn to “my body is wonderful, and I appreciate it” or “my body allows me to ‘realize [my] divine destiny’” (see The Family Proclamation).
If that’s not enough, body appreciation has been linked to some major benefits. Body appreciation has been connected with self-esteem7, optimism8, and life satisfaction7,9. For married couples, positive body image has been related to increased sexual satisfaction.10
Body appreciation is an important mindset to have, but if that’s not where you’re at currently, do not despair. Here are some research-backed tips to help you move from body shame to body appreciation:
- Watch your language. How we talk about our bodies, including the words we use, have a large effect on the feelings we have toward our bodies.11 Changing negative body talk to be more positive can help improve body image.
- Focus on function. Rather than scrutinizing how your body looks, think about the many incredible things your body can do.12,13 If you need help getting started, check out Your Body: A Magnificent Gift to Cherish by world-renown heart surgeon and church leader, President Russell M. Nelson.
- Choose gratitude.13 Write down things you are grateful for about your body rather than focusing just on things you wish you could change. Review those things often and continue building on that list.
- Self-compassion. This is crucial. When you think about your body or talk about it to other people, be kind to yourself.13 Use language that you would use for a good friend rather than submitting to overly critical thoughts and words.
- Try meditating. This may or may not be a new area for you but give it a try. Body positive meditations can be very helpful in moving toward improved body appreciation.13 There are many free apps available for finding meditations. You can start with this Compassionate Body Scan by Dr. Kristin Neff.
- Get moving. Start moving your body and getting some exercise, not to lose weight or change how you look but to change how you feel. 12,13 Pay attention to how you feel after exercising and take a moment at the end of your session to thank your body for its hard work.
- Be critical of information from the media.8 Celebrity photos that you see are often touched and re-touched to look perfect. They may look nice, but they’re unrealistic and should not be used to compare our own bodies to. Be intentional about what information you are using to inform you about your body.
Body appreciation is something that can be developed, and it is never too late to start learning. It may be easy to slip back into our old ways, but that is where self-compassion comes in. Be kind to yourself as you learn a new way of thinking about your body. If you would like an additional resource, take a look at More Than a Body by Lindsay and Lexie Kite, PhD.
Written by Chelsea Zollinger Allen, edited by Stephen F. Duncan, professor in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. May 1, 2021.
- Fallon, E. A., Harris, B. S., & Johnson, P. (2013). Prevalence of body dissatisfaction among a United States adult sample. Eating Behaviors, 15, 151-158. DOI: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2013.11.007
- Olson, K. L., Lillis, J., Panza, E., Wing, R. R., Quinn, D. M., & Puhl, R. R. (2020). Body shape concerns across racial and ethnic groups among adults in the United States: More similarities than differences. Body image, 35, 108–113. DOI:10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.08.013
- Murray-Swank, N. A., Pargament, K. I., & Mahoney, A. (2005). At the crossroads of sexuality and spirituality: The sanctification of sex by college students. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 15(3), 199-219.
- Jacobson, H. L., Hall, M. E. L., Anderson, T. L., & Willingham M. M. (2016). Temple or prison: Religious beliefs and attitudes toward the body. Journal of Religion and Health, 55(6), 2154-2173. DOI: 10.1007/s10943-016-0266-z
- Jacobson, H. L., Hall, M. E. L., & Anderson, T. L. (2013). Theology and the body: Sanctification and bodily experiences. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 5(1), 41-50.
- Pargament, K. I., & Mahoney, A. (2005). Sacred matters: Sanctification as a vital topic for the psychology of religion. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 15(3), 179-198.
- Piko, B. F., Obál, A., Mellor, D. (2020). Body appreciation in light of psychological, health- and weight-related variables among female adolescents. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 16(4), 676-687.
- Wood-Barcalow, N. L., Tylka, T. L., & Augustus-Horvath, C. L. (2010). “But I like my body”: Positive body image characteristics and a holistic model for young adult women. Body Image, 7(2), 106-116. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2010.01.001
- Alcaraz-Ibáñez, M., Cren Chiminazzo, J. G., Sicilia, Á., & Teixeira Fernandez, P. (2017). Examining the psychometric properties of the Body Appreciation Scale-2 in Brazilian adolescents. Psychology, Society, &. Education, 9(3), 505-515. https://doi.org/10.25115/psye.v9i3.1101
- Pujols, Y., Meston, C. M., & Seal, B. N. (2010). The association between sexual satisfaction and body image in women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(2), 905-916. DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01604.x
- Alleva, J. M., Sheeran, P., Webb, T. L., Martijn C., & Miles, E. (2015). A meta-analytic review of stand-alone interventions to improve body image. PLoS, 10(9), 1-32.
- Frisén, A., & Holmqvist, K. (2010). What characterizes early adolescents with a positive body image? A qualitative investigation of Swedish girls and boys. Body Image, 7(3), 205-212. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2010.04.001
- Guest, E., Costa, B., Williamson, H., Meyrick, J., Halliwell, E., & Harcourt, D. (2019). The effectiveness of interventions aiming to promote positive body image in adults: A systematic review. Body Image, 30, 10-25. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2019.04.002