This surprising hobby helps you with body positivity

Tick tock. It feels like time has crawled to a standstill in the wake of this pandemic and we’re all looking for a cure for our boredom.

If you just finished your fifth jigsaw puzzle and feel like you’ve binge-watched just about everything worth checking out, consider trying your hand at gardening. A new piece of research from Anglia Ruskin University finds that gardening promotes an overall more positive self-body image, as well as a better sense of acceptance when it comes to one’s bodily imperfections. 

Gardening has long been considered a soothing practice, and the benefits of experiencing nature are well documented as well. Dusting off the gardening gloves offers several benefits, from stress relief to just the general satisfaction of getting one’s hands dirty and bringing some life into this world. All that, combined with this new study’s findings, makes a pretty strong argument that there’s never been a better time to start playing in the dirt.

The research team followed 84 gardeners across 12 urban allotment gardening areas in north London, as well as 81 non-gardeners recruited from the same area. Each participant filled out a series of surveys. Overwhelmingly, the gardeners reported higher levels of appreciation for their bodies, significantly higher levels of body pride, and more appreciation for how their bodies function.

Interestingly, the longer a person said they had been regularly gardening, the more their body image improved in comparison to before they had picked up the hobby.

“Positive body image is beneficial because it helps to foster psychological and physical resilience, which contributes to overall well being,” comments Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, in a press release. “My previous research has shown the benefits of being in nature more generally, but increasing urbanization has meant that many people now have less access to nature.”

Gardening may initially seem like an activity reserved for farmers or people living in the countryside, but us city dwellers can get involved as well. Urban gardening has become more and more popular in recent years and all you need is a balcony that gets some sunlight and some containers for your plants and soil. For all the cooks out there, a small herb garden is a great place to start. Most herbs don’t need as much sunlight or maintenance to grow and you’ll save yourself a trip to the grocery store by growing your own ingredients.

In fact, this study validates the idea that urban gardening is just as soothing for the soul as rural gardening.

“The findings from this new study are important because they specifically show the significant benefits of spending time on allotments, which are typically quite small patches of green space in otherwise mainly urban environments,” Professor Swami adds. 

Maintaining a positive body image can feel like a constant uphill battle. We’re all only human after all, and modern culture very much encourages the idea that a perfect body is necessary for a perfect life. While that couldn’t be farther from the truth, it’s still hard to block out all that noise. 

It’s hard to say exactly why gardening helps improve body image, but perhaps it has something to do with nurturing a smaller, more fragile life as it flourishes. The plants and flowers we grow remind us just how blessed we all are, regardless of inconsequential body flaws.

We could all use a little more positivity these days. Gardening represents a great opportunity to pass the time, relieve some stress, and foster a healthier body image all at once.

The full study can be found here, published in Ecopsychology.