Let’s face it, there’s a lot of pressure for women to be a certain size. Looking at a magazine cover featuring a model with toned abs, a slim waist, and curvy hips, then taking a look in the mirror, could be very discouraging for most women, but belly dancing is one way to change that. The exercise is sexy, fun, and according to a new study conducted by Australian researchers, it will improve your body image.

The study was led by Marika Tiggermann of the psychology department at Flinders University, Southern Australia. Tiggermann and researchers found that in Western countries, more women than men were dissatisfied with their bodies. They concluded that the ideal thin woman is an international phenomenon, largely due to globalization of Western media. For the study, researchers decided to see how dance played a role in body image, The Huffington Post reported.

In previous research, researchers found that street dancers had a better self-image than exotic dancers. For their latest study, they compared exotic dancing to belly dancing. Exotic dancing and belly dancing are both appealing to the eye and very seductive, but unlike exotic dancers, belly dancers come in all shapes and sizes. In fact, being heavier is sometimes preferred for belly dancing. Therefore, for the study researchers predicted that belly dancers would have a more positive self-image and decided to test their hypothesis.

The study involved 213 women participants from Adelaide, Australia. A little over half of the participants (112) were experienced belly dancers from belly dancing schools, and the remaining participants (101) were students from the Flinders who had no belly dance training. For the study, all of the women had to rate how they felt about their bodies. The women answered a questionnaire that measured positive body image, body dissatisfaction, self-objectification, and enjoyment of sexualization.

They recorded how they felt others perceived them and how attractive they believed men viewed them. The results were based on Tiggermann’s “embodiment model,” in which she hypothesized that belly dancing “helps nurture a sense of mental and physical harmony with their bodies, leading to less self-objectifying thought."

Researchers found that belly dancers had the most positive body image. Several participants said the exercise helped them to appreciate their own “unique beauty and sensuality.” Some said it was a part of their spirituality."It allows women a rare, safe, and creative opportunity for exploring and expressing their sensual and sexual selves," Tiggermann said.

Researchers also noted in the study that belly dancers did not score any different than college women as far as sexualization, This was a surprising factor, since belly dancing is viewed as such an erotic dance. Overall, researchers concluded that belly dancing is an emodiment activity that encourages a positive self image.

“Belly dancing is an activity associated with positive body image, because participants tend to focus less on their external appearance, and more on the experience and what they are able to do with their bodies," Tiggermann said.

Source: Tiggemaan M, Coutts E, Clark L. Belly Dance as an Embodying Test of the Embodiment Model Of Postive Image. Sex Roles. 2014.