Physical Self-Acceptance

According  to  psychologist  Carol  Ryff,  the  term self-acceptance  refers  to  positive  evaluations  of oneself and one’s past life. Someone with high self-acceptance  experiences  psychological  well-being (PWB)  in  the  form  of  a  positive  attitude  toward oneself—being  able  to  recognize  and  accept  the good  and  bad  qualities  of  multiple  aspects  of oneself—and   looks   positively   upon   past   life. Alternatively,  someone  low  in  self-acceptance  is dissatisfied  with  herself  or  himself,  wishes  to  be different, is troubled by certain personal qualities, and  is  disappointed  with  past  life.  The  term  self-acceptance  has  its  origins  in  research  on  positive PWB and has been identified as one of the central components of mental health, optimal functioning, and the realization of one’s true potential.

Physical Self-Acceptance

Aspects  of  self-acceptance  are  featured  prominently in research and theory in sport and exercise psychology  (SEP),  more  specifically  research  on self-esteem  and  the  physical  self.  For  example,  in R. Sonstroem and W. Morgan’s model of how exercise  might  influence  self-esteem  and  the  physical self, physical acceptance (i.e., the degree to which an individual accepts both physical strengths and weaknesses)  is  identified  as  one  of  the  two  main dimensions  of  the  physical  self  (physical  competence  is  the  other  dimension).  Physical  acceptance  is  described  as  similar  to  satisfaction  with various parts of one’s body; and body satisfaction itself  is  often  associated  with  global  self-esteem. The model makes a case that it is possible to alter perceptions of the physical self, including physical acceptance,  through  exercise.  However,  in  comparison  to  the  physical  competence  dimension  of the model, much less is known about the physical acceptance dimension.

Links to Well-Being

Indicative  of  its  key  role  in  psychological  adjustment,  self-acceptance  has  been  proposed  as  a dimension  of  human  potential  consistent  with Ryff’s  eudaimonic  perspective  of  well-being.  Self-acceptance  is  associated  with  hedonic  forms  of well-being, such as satisfaction with life and positive  affect,  and  is  positively  related  to  the  other dimensions  of  eudaimonic  well-being  (e.g.,  environmental  mastery,  positive  relatedness).  Along with  additional  indicators  of  optimal  psychological  functioning,  such  as  personal  growth  and purpose  in  life,  self-acceptance  is  associated  with participation  in  physical  activity  (PA),  as  well  as satisfaction  of  the  basic  psychological  needs  of competence,  autonomy,  and  relatedness  through engagement in PA. By using the abilities and functions  of  one’s  body,  PA  promotes  self-acceptance and therefore striving for the fulfillment of human potential.  Being  physically  active  contributes  to an able body that meets the demands of everyday life  and  encourages  contentment  with  one’s  body despite  weaknesses  and  deficiencies.  This  allows one to be self-accepting, particularly of the physical self.

Self-Accepting Self-Regard

A  sport-specific  form  of  self-acceptance  has  also been discussed in the literature, consisting of self-accepting  self-regard  and  independence  of  self-regard.  Self-accepting  self-regard  represents  a belief in the inherent, unique, and complex worth of all human beings, whereas independence of self-regard  refers  to  valuing  and  feeling  good  about oneself   despite   one’s   shortcomings.   Together, self-accepting  self-regard  and  independence  of self-regard  form  a  sport-specific  self-acceptance, which  reflects  athletes’  valuing  and  feeling  good about  themselves  despite  their  shortcomings  and failures  in  sport.  Sport-specific  self-acceptance  is related to general self-acceptance, stability of self-concept,  and  self-esteem.  Although  sport-specific self-acceptance  and  self-esteem  both  involve  a positive  sense  of  self-regard,  important  distinctions exist between the two constructs. In particular,  the  independence  of  self-regard  dimension  of sport-specific  self-acceptance  means  that  athletes value  and  feel  good  about  themselves  regardless of  whether  or  not  they  perceive  themselves  as competent  in  sport-related  domains.  In  contrast, high self-esteem is conditional on a sense of competence  or  adequacy,  whereby  athletes  need  to feel  good  about  their  strengths  and  accomplishments. Researchers suggest that sport-specific self-acceptance  might  be  as  beneficial  as  self-esteem development  in  helping  athletes  feel  good  about themselves.

Self-Acceptance and Self-Compassion

Self-acceptance  has  also  been  described  as  an important aspect of self-compassion, which shows promise  as  a  personal  resource  for  athletes  and exercisers.  Self-compassion  is  particularly  useful  in  times  of  pain  and  failure,  because  it  generates  a  desire  to  heal  oneself  with  kindness  rather than berate oneself with harsh criticism. As exemplified  in  exercise  settings,  people  who  are  self-compassionate seem to be more accepting of things that they are unable to change and instead focus on things  that  they  can  change.  Specifically,  women exercisers who are less self-compassionate tend to feel  a  stronger  obligation  to  exercise,  even  when that  exercise  might  be  harmful  to  them.  Women exercisers  have  also  described  that  acceptance  of one’s  own  body  limitations  can  be  an  important part  of  developing  self-compassion  toward  the body. In sport, self-compassion has also been proposed  as  potentially  beneficial  to  women  athletes on  the  journey  to  self-acceptance  of  their  own muscularity.

Conditional and Unconditional Self-Acceptance

The distinction between unconditional self-acceptance  and  conditional  self-acceptance  has  also been  recognized  in  the  SEP  literature,  each  of which  might  have  important  consequences  when looking  at  the  outcomes  of  participation  in  sport and  exercise.  Unconditional  self-acceptance  can be considered an adaptive acceptance of one’s self that does not depend on the approval, acceptance, or  love  from  others;  rather,  it  involves  accepting oneself fully and unconditionally. Among athletes, unconditional self-acceptance is negatively related to  maladaptive  forms  of  perfectionism,  such  that those with high unconditional self-acceptance are less  likely  to  experience  perfectionism  based  on either the pursuit of exceedingly high standards set by the self or high standards perceived as imposed by  others.  Conditional  self-acceptance,  on  the other  hand,  is  highly  dependent  on  the  perceived evaluations  of  others  and  predisposes  perfectionists to experience burnout.


  1. Fox, K. R. (1997). The physical self and processes in self-esteem development. In K. R. Fox (Ed.), The physical self: From motivation to well-being (pp. 111–139). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  2. Neff, K. D. (2012). The science of self-compassion. In C. Germer & R. Siegel (Eds.), Compassion and wisdom in psychotherapy (pp. 79–92). New York: Guilford Press.
  3. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological wellbeing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,57, 1069–1081.
  4. Sonstroem, R. J., & Morgan, W. P. (1989). Exercise and self-esteem: Rationale and model. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 21, 329–337.
  5. Waite, B. T., Gansneder, B., & Rotella, R. J. (1990). A sport-specific measure of self-acceptance. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 12, 264–279.


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