Would you like to wake up one day and feel more beautiful and better about your body? Most people would answer, “Yes!” Perhaps you think that improving your body image virtually overnight may sound a little far-fetched. However, this scenario may not be quite as impossible as it sounds. I recently interview Dr. Kearney-Cooke, a world-renown psychologist and body image expert, who was part of the Dove’s new campaign, Dove: Patches. She found several important keys to feeling better about your body.
I asked Dr. Kearney to give a brief recap of the Dove study:
Dr. Kearney-Cooke met with ten women who agreed to participate in a study/documentary about a revolutionary new beauty patch. The women ranged in age from mid-20’s to 50’s of various races, body shape and professions. She sat down with each of them individually and offered them a “patch” that would lead them to feel more beautiful every day. Essentially, it would help them to obsess less about their appearance and feel better about their bodies. They only had to wear the patch 8 hours a day for 15 days. Each participant was required to record in a diary the choices they made each day to feel better about their bodies. Who wouldn’t accept a patch like this? It promised easy and great benefits. This quick-fix approach mirrors many fad diet ads that promise fast, effortless results. We believe them because we want it to be true.
Dr. Kearney-Cooke admits that, “some of the women were skeptical at first.” Their doubt makes perfect sense. Feeling good about yourself is sometimes a foreign concept and can seem unobtainable. Keeping the women in the dark has been a topic of debate in reviews of the campaign. Like most scientific research, the participants were “blind” (a placebo) to what was “in” the patch to test whether there was truly an effect.
What were the general results?
Amazingly after just 2-3 days, the women began to report feeling “more beautiful and having more energy.” The participants, “started making active choices” that led them to feel more attractive and comfortable in their bodies. On close examination of the diaries, Dr. Kearney-Cooke, noticed that the women became focused less on “external” indicators of beauty like a numbers on a scale, a mirror and comparisons to other women. For example, one day, a participant noted that she didn’t wear makeup to work. Her co-workers indicated that she looked like she was “glowing.” Instead of pushing away the compliment like people often do, she said, “Thank you!” The diaries revealed an interesting “cycle.” Participants believed that the patch would make them feel more confident so they started acting in more self-assured ways like smiling more. The result? People respond positively to this which just boosted these behaviors even more.
The participants also gave more indications of being “in-the-moment!” When you are lost in your head in the “mental noise” thinking about your appearance, you aren’t really engaged in the moment. Dr. Kearney-Cooke gave an example of a woman sitting on the beach with her daughter. In the past, she avoided the beach. While at the ocean, she observed a grandmother sitting in the sand with what appeared to be her granddaughter braiding her hair. She remembered being captivated by the beauty of the scene. It’s likely that the “patch” (aka your mindset) helped give herself permission to “let go” of her worry about putting on a bathing suit. She went to the beach and was more in the moment looking outside of herself instead of trapped inside. This was also an example of how the participants began, “expanding their definition of beauty” beyond the stereotypes of what is beautiful.
Were the women surprised that nothing was actually in the patch?
At the end of the two weeks, it was revealed that there was “nothing” in the patch. Were the women surprised? “Definitely” said Dr. Kearney-Cooke. In fact, some became emotional. It was hard to believe that the way they felt was not chemically induced. One woman in the study insisted that there must be “caffeine” in the patch. She reported having much more energy. Dr. Kearney-Cooke hypothesized that the boost in energy could have been the result of reducing the “toxic mental energy” toward appearance worry that can be so draining.
There was no magic potion in these patches. Why do you think there was such a big impact?
“The power of suggestion” said Dr. Kearney-Cooke. In a nutshell, she said, beauty is a “state of mind.” We can all identify with this notion. Think of a time when you felt attractive in the morning and a few hours later, something upsetting happened and your self-esteem deflated like a balloon. This 180 degree mental switch demonstrates that feelings about your body are dynamic and can change from hour to hour and even from moment-to-moment. A negative body image is a mulitdimensional problem that includes the toxic environment with ads, products and media that convinces men and women that worry is necessary. Hopefully, the negative messages change someday. Until that day, you can change how you respond to them.
I asked Dr. Kearney-Cooke to give some “Take Away” Tips for Women:
1) Expand your Notion of Beautiful. Stop using the scale, mirrors and comparisons and start focusing on your “signature beauty,” the aspect that makes you unique. For example, a woman in the study spent 1-1/2 hours a day straightening her hair. One day, she wore her hair in its natural state all day. Not only did compliments ensue, this switch saved her almost 2 hours a day. We all want to look nice and it’s okay to devote some time to choosing an outfit and getting ready each morning. Think for a moment about how much time goes beyond the normal range of getting ready and shifts into time draining obsessing. What could you do with that extra time?
2) Make Active Choices Each Day To Feel Beautiful: The key word is “choices” Dr. Kearney-Cooke says. Here are some examples of actions steps that you can take. Intentionally smile more. Say “Thank you” to compliments instead of turning them down. Wear your favorite outfit. Give a genuine compliment. Taking a hot bubble bath to pamper yourself. Keep a daily log. Note how you feel and the response you get from others (ex. Do you get more compliments? Do you feel more at ease?).
3) Outsmart Negative Self Talk: Let’s face it. Our minds can be pretty brutal. Take a step back from fat talk and remind yourself that, “A thought is just a thought. It’s not a “fact.” Instead of saying, “I am fat” and beating yourself up, Kearney-Cooke advises you to say to yourself, “I am having the thought that I am fat.” This method can distance you a little from the hard hitting impact of your thoughts. It also helps you to let these beliefs go rather than ruminating on them.
4) Try on new Mantra: Not convinced yet that your body image is mental? “Just try it on for size” says Dr. Kearney-Cooke. Say, “I feel beautiful” to yourself and see what happens to your energy level over a span of two weeks. Keep a daily log of your energy level from 1-10.
5) Make Your List of Beautiful People in Your Life: After you have made the list, ask yourself are they all a “Perfect 10?” In other words, do they look like Heidi Klum or Bradley Cooper? It’s not likely. Think about what makes them beautiful to you. Maybe a great sense of humor, a killer smile, or a kind heart makes them attractive in your eyes. This exercise, Dr. Kearney suggests, is a great example of how we are much less critical of other people than we are of ourselves. Attractiveness is subjective. It’s based on many more things than a number on a scale. It’s likely you would make someone’s list of “most beautiful.”
6 Have Fun With Your Appearance: “Avoid the fat talk and comparing yourself to unrealistic ideas,” advises Dr. Kearney-Cooke. Turn your energy into something fun. For example, Dr. Kearney-Cooke indicated that a participant in the study had her girlfriends over to do hair and drink wine. She had not had this kind of girl bonding for a very long time! Think for a moment about the how you can have more fun (wear color instead of boring, drab black or hold a spa day in your home).
7) Share this Amazing Message! Go to youtube.com/dove and watch the documentary. “These are powerful stories,” says Dr. Kearney-Cooke. See if you identify with any of these women. Pass along the link to a friend. Post it on facebook.com. Talk it over with just one friend today.
Overall, Dr. Kearney-Cooke believes, "Regardless of the shape of your face, shape of your body, color of your skin or age every women needs to be included in the definition of beauty. The time for change is now!" Thank you Dove and Dr. Kearney-Cooke for this thought provoking study.
Susan Albers is a psychologist and author of six books on mindful eating including 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. Visit her at www.eatingmindfully.com Dr. Albers is frequently quoted in Shape, Fitness, Prevention and Health Magazine and was a guest on Dr. Oz.