For women, communing with nature brings benefits.
Does the fairer sex hold special favor with Mother Earth? A growing body of research indicates that the great outdoors affects women's self-esteem and environmental concern.
Katherine Schreiber is a recovering exercise addict and writer. Her work has been published in Psychology Today, where she previously worked as an editor, TIME Healthland, Weight Watchers Magazine, on Greatist.com, and on Psychcentral.com. She has also appeared on ABC Nightline. Katherine currently lives with her fiancé in New York City, is pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction at Sarah Lawrence College, and is working on her second book about female sexuality
Editor: Saad Shaheed
The more time women spend in nature, the more positive their body images become, a study in Ecopsychology suggests. Researcher Kari Hennigan of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in California conducted in-depth interviews with 12 women ages 24-55. Her subjects camped, gardened, and even participated in pagan practices—and regardless of the activity, the longer they did it outdoors, the stronger their self-worth became.
A little reclusiveness does a body image good, Hennigan posits: The more time one takes to experience her surroundings, the less access she has to images of stick-thin models, weight-loss programs, and makeup ads promising perfection.
The Pleasure Principle
Smelling the roses might bring extra pleasure to women. Colorado State University researcher Gretchen Nurse surveyed men and women on their environmental attitudes, outdoor time, and desire to seek out nature's pleasures (e.g., rustling leaves and gorgeous sunsets).
While the genders are matched for time spent outside, women are especially motivated to seek out nature's sensory offerings, Nurse says. Women are also extra likely to believe nature has inherent value—and that it shouldn't just be saved for, say, its useful natural resources.
The idea of women as the more environmentally concerned sex is nothing new. "Women have, historically and evolutionarily, been the more nurturing gender, and the instinct to care for things probably extends to the environment," Nurse explains. "But these findings suggest women are wired to look at nature in a particular way—and that leads to a different sense of environmental concern."
Is an overemphasis on personal beauty tough on the earth, as well as the psyche? Women who say their appearance is hugely important to their self-concept and who feel it's crucial to always look their best engage in fewer planet-friendly behaviors and express fewer green attitudes than less appearance-obsessed women do, a University of St. Thomas study reveals.
"The self-objectification research to date has focused on negative consequences for the women themselves, like poor self-esteem and engaging in destructive behaviors," investigator Britain Scott explains. "We found an association that has implications for all of us: how it might translate into women's green behavior."
Obsessing over your own appearance prevents you from feeling connected to the world beyond your body—and the less we feel a part of nature, the less regard we have for it, research shows. Attention allocation also may be to blame: Devote yours to your looks, and you won't have much left for the world. To reconnect, learn the names of the trees lining your commute, listen to bird calls outside your window, or put a plant in your office, Scott suggests.