Body Confidence Can Be Boosted by Writing Letters to Ourselves, Research Suggests

Researchers have studied how body confidence can be boosted in women. Getty Images

Those who preach that women should simply love their bodies and feel beautiful the way they are may mean well, but they fail to address confidence problems in any meaningful way, according to researchers. Simply writing a loving letter to yourself could, however.

While researchers understood what could negatively affect a woman's body image, they were short on solutions for how to improve it, the authors of a new study noted. To investigate how to boost confidence, a team at Northwestern University's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences tested a series of writing exercises and published their findings in the Psychology of Women Quarterly.

In the first stage of the study, which involved about 500 college-age women, participants were asked to write a compassionate letter to themselves from the perspective of an unconditionally loving friend. Another letter described their body specifically, while a third letter was about the gratitude they felt toward it. All three letters were found to boost satisfaction with the body, according to the researchers. Writing the letters took 15 minutes.

A separate study involving more than 1,000 college-age women condensed the letter-writing exercise into an online activity where individuals wrote sentences, rather than paragraphs, about themselves.

Renee Engeln, a professor of instruction in psychology at Weinberg and an author of the study, told Newsweek, "This study shows us that a quick, free and enjoyable intervention can boost body satisfaction and positive mood among women who might be struggling with body image. Taking some time to reframe thoughts about your body in self-compassionate terms can be powerful."

Further research is needed to see whether the exercises would have the same results in people of different ages and genders, she noted.

"We also don't know how long these positive effects last. It's likely that those who wish to hold on to the good feelings and attitudes that result from this activity would need to revisit their letters, or add to them, to prolong the effects over time," Engeln said.

Ideally, the practice will be turned into an app that can be used when a person is struggling with appreciating and respecting her body, she said.

"The good news is that we can all practice thinking about our bodies in different ways," said Engeln. "We can work to treat our bodies with kindness, understanding and forgiveness—the same qualities we show to the people we love."