The idea for body compassion as a research construct first emerged in a class on research methodology in response to an assignment to create a measure of a psychological construct. When conducting research using quantitative self-report measures, it is important to stay grounded in a theoretical orientation to guide your questions and how you make sense of the data. At the time there were no measures available that bridged the theoretical divide between self-compassion—rooted in Buddhist psychology—and body image—rooted in the cognitive model. Enter the Body Compassion Scale (BCS).
I spent that semester thinking through the research methodology for the development of a new measure designed to bridge the theoretical gap between self-compassion and body image. I was fortunate to have a wonderfully supportive advisor who allowed me to pursue the process of developing the BCS throughout my graduate career (a thousand thank you’s Paul, deep bow), as well as having contacts at other universities willing to help me collect data (thanks Abbie!) and complete data analysis (you rock Ken!). It is ALWAYS a team effort in research, none of this would have happened if I tried to do it on my own; my use of ‘I’ throughout this description only reflects me as the main driver, it is a team effort through and through, one of the things I love most about the research process.
So, the BCS was derived from the theory and extant literature in body image and self-compassion and initial scale validation study data was collected at two regional universities. We subsequently completed analysis of the psychometric properties and factor structure of the scale, collected validation data in a second sample, and completed confirmatory factor analysis. The initial scale development was published in the Journal of Health Psychology in the article The Body Compassion Scale: Initial Development and Validation. Researchers around the world (well, four total countries that I know of so far, USA, Iran, China and Portugal, it’s just fun to say ‘around the world’!) are now collecting data in population samples beyond college students to ensure it makes sense in the “real world.” So far, it does. You can see some of those projects here, others are still in process. Populations in which data has been collected and from which research papers are forthcoming include: endometrial cancer survivors, breast cancer survivors, women in perimenopause, queer bodies, and participants in an outdoor boot camp class.
This has been a years-long process with the earliest findings presented in June 2014 at the World Conference of the Association for Contextual Behavior Science in Minneapolis, MN in the poster Development of the Body Compassion Scale and in the Ignite! presentation Body Compassion: Cultural Behavior Change via Embodiment of Psychological Flexibility—here’s the abstract:
We propose the concept of body compassion as a perspective on the body’s appearance, competence, and health, viewed with mindfulness, kindness and awareness of common humanity. Body compassion bridges two constructs with disparate foundations, body image (Western cognitive model) and self-compassion (Buddhist psychology). Assessing body compassion fills a need for measures to help guide health behavior change interventions and predict outcomes. Body compassion is observable in psychological flexibility, and vice versa. The body is always in the present moment. Making contact with the experience of embodiment from the transcendent sense of self supports defining valued directions and committed action. It is proposed that with an emphasis on developing compassion towards one’s own physical body a ripple effect occurs. The compassionate experience of embodiment (in whatever form that may take) influences behaviors in other domains and the experiences and behavior of others.
We have also published an initial case study of a body compassion intervention in the journal Clinical Case Studies, titled Targeting Body Compassion in the Treatment of Body Dissatisfaction: A Case Study. This was another incredible experience of mentorship (thank you thank you Janet!) and collaboration resulting in the opportunity to practice real world application and impact of the concept of Body Compassion.
The research is just getting started. If you are a researcher interested in investigating body compassion, please do and let us know. We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us and we’ll send you the Body Compassion Scale (BCS) and scoring. This blog will be updated with the latest developments of body compassion in the world of research. Thank you for coming along for the journey!