Stop Hating Your Body by Contemplating Death!

Stop Hating Your Body by Contemplating Death!
Image:John Downing/Express (Getty Images)

Death, like taxes, is a fact of life. We are born and eventually, we will die. Though it is not particularly healthy (I guess) to contemplate death or mortality with the frequency that I do, I am happy to see that my tendency to declare death’s inevitability at any moment means that, according to science, I am less pre-disposed to be dissatisfied with my body. Finally, I feel seen.

According to a study published in a journal called, fittingly, Body Image, those who engage in “death reflection” are more satisfied with their body image than those who do not. The thinking here is that because women spend so much time contemplating their body image and navigating through the mire of self-doubt, self-hatred, and a general dissatisfaction with their looks due to TikTok teens with big butts and the Kardashians or whatever, that they are trapped in “adverse” thought loops that can easily be interrupted if you take a minute and just think about the fact that none of this matters and we are all going to die.

I am bad at science, but this is my kind of science, if only because it confirms a practice that I have engaged in regularly since I was a child: contemplating my own death and acknowledging that nothing we do is really important in the grand scheme of things because everyone is relatively unremarkable on a universal level, and we will all, like I said, die. There’s absolutely no time to think about a little jiggle in the middle when your brain is running on a nihilistic hamster wheel focused solely on the inevitability of life’s end!

Anyway, here’s how the study worked:

The researchers recruited 158 female university students to complete a questionnaire assessing their intrinsic and extrinsic values. A subset of the women then read a descriptive scenario that had them imagine themselves dying in an apartment fire. The women were then asked a series of prompts that probed their feelings regarding their imagined death. These questions including asking them to describe their life up until this point and to imagine how their family would react to their death.
All participants then completed a series of questionnaires assessing their body satisfaction, body appreciation, broad conceptualization of beauty, endorsement of cultural appearance ideals, and the importance they place on their physical appearance…
When the researchers analyzed the results, they found that the women in the death reflection group showed greater weight satisfaction compared to the group that reflected on an experience unrelated to their death. Moreover, women who were high in beauty orientation showed greater shape satisfaction in the death reflection group than in the active control group.

OK! While this might seem like a particularly grim way to stop the endless churn of negative body self-talk, Jessica M. Alleva, the author of the study, told PsyPost that this is really just a matter of perspective. When women reflect on their own death,” Alleva and her colleagues write, “it could put appearance concerns into perspective, reducing the overall importance that they place on their physical appearance.” The study isn’t advocating for a daily death reflection practice, but rather to remind yourself on the regular that the world isn’t going to end because you can’t get a Brazilian butt lift, and also, you’re going to die one day, and it won’t matter.

Reminding yourself that death is coming whenever it may is a nice way to temper your expectations for what the world will offer you, as well as your expectations that you’ve set for yourself with regards to your body. No one’s going to see your stretch marks from beyond the grave and it won’t matter if your ass is either too fat or too skinny, depending on how you feel about butts as a matter of course, because when we have vacated this mortal plane, bodies will disintegrate and return to the earth. The worms don’t care if you looked like EmRata when you were alive, babe. They’re gonna eat your bones just the same.

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