Aesthetic athletes are at increased risk for developing eating disorder (ED) symptoms, but few studies have examined protective factors. Self-compassion has been shown to protect against ED symptoms in the general population of adults, but few studies have examined SC and ED symptoms in athletes or adolescents. Furthermore, little is known about self-compassion as it relates specifically to one’s body appearance (i.e., body-related self-compassion; BRSC). Using a sample of 49 aesthetic athletes (24 dancers and 25 figure skaters), this study examined (a) attitudes toward SC and BRSC, (b) cross-sectional correlations between SC, BRSC, and ED symptoms, and (c) the effectiveness of a SC intervention aimed at reducing ED symptoms. Results showed that SC was negatively correlated with ED symptoms, especially perfectionism. In particular, participants who reported higher levels of self-judgment were more likely to report ED symptoms. As expected, BRSC accounted for many of the correlations between the SC subscales and ED subscales. Participants reported positive attitudes toward SC, believing that it may have many benefits to athletes’ emotional well-being, athletic success, and social connections. However, they also expressed concern that SC may undermine work ethic and may be difficult to achieve given a variety of barriers (e.g., having a harsh or critical training environment). Finally, the SC intervention led to significant improvements in overall SC, as well as self-kindness. The intervention did not produce measurable changes in ED symptoms; however, it was positively received by participants. In summary, this study provides preliminary evidence that SC may protect against ED symptoms in young aesthetic athletes.
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Thesis advisor: Cox, David
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