Date of Award

August 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Christy Greenleaf

Committee Members

Lori Klos, Amy Harley, Ann Swartz


body image, exercise, self-compassion, women


Body image concerns are a prevalent and pervasive issue among young adult women and are associated with a host of physical and psychological consequences including disordered eating, depression, and anxiety. Body image concerns play a role in physical activity and exercise behavior, where negative body image is related to lower levels of exercise engagement. Self-compassion is a way of relating to oneself with kindness and understanding, particularly in the presence of suffering or feelings of inadequacy. Self-compassion consists of three interrelated components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness, and has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing body image concerns, while fostering positive body image. Self-compassion is also associated with positive health behaviors, such as engagement in physical activity and exercise through the process of self-regulation. Given the evidence of self-compassion’s impact on body image and the critical role body image plays in exercise participation, self-compassion interventions designed to specifically address body image concerns may have the potential to impact exercise engagement.The purpose of the present research was to further explore the relationship between self-compassion and body image and the role of body self-compassion in exercise motivation. There were three aims of this dissertation including 1.) to conduct a systematic review of the effectiveness of self-compassion interventions on body image; 2.) to test the effects of a unique body self-compassion intervention on body image and intrinsic motivation to exercise and 3.) to qualitatively explore the women’s experiences of engaging in body self-compassion activities. A systematic review was conducted to assess the effectiveness of interventions that teach self-compassion and their impact on body image. Database searches were conducted using PsycINFO and Web of Science and a narrative synthesis was conducted using PRISMA guidelines for systematic reviewers. Twelve studies met the inclusion criteria which evaluated a variety of self-compassion interventions including self-compassion meditations, writing exercises, and group-based discussions in an adult, female population. Results indicated that despite the heterogenous nature of the interventions (variety in design, duration, and delivery format), interventions utilizing the teachings of self-compassion demonstrated effectiveness in both reducing negative body image and promoting positive body image. A three-week body self-compassion program was conducted among women exercisers to determine its impact on self-objectification, body appreciation, and intrinsic motivation to exercise. 53 women, ages 18-25, were randomly assigned to either the intervention (n =34) or control group (n=19). Each week, participants were instructed to listen to a 3-minute audio meditation, followed by a 3-minute journaling reflection prior to their normal exercise routine. Findings demonstrated no significant effects on body image or intrinsic motivation for exercise. Despite these findings, a descriptive summary of open-ended responses provided insight into how the participants incorporated body self-compassion both towards their bodies and within their exercise routine. Participants demonstrated engagement and compliance demonstrating acceptability for the intervention approach. The purpose of the third study was to explore how engaging in a body self-compassion intervention impacts women’s relationship with their bodies, in general, and during exercise. Following the intervention described above, seven women participated in one-on-one semi-structured interviews, which were analyzed using a thematic analysis approach. Two themes were developed in response to the participant’s experiences engaging in body self-compassion: changing my narrative and uncovering my intuition. The women conveyed that body self-compassion shifted their perspectives to a more accepting and appreciative view of their bodies and supported their ability to listen to their bodies. Results of this study provided deeper insight into the experiences and perceptions women may have when applying a self-compassionate mindset towards their bodies and how this can impact their relationship with exercise. Previous literature suggests self-compassion interventions to be an acceptable and effective tool in addressing body image concerns. Based on the findings from the one-on-one interviews and reflections from the participants, interventions intended to cultivate body self-compassion have the potential to facilitate body appreciation and body connection within the exercise domain.

Included in

Kinesiology Commons