Background Bodily changes after breast cancer treatment can lead to long-term distress. Self-compassion, the ability to be kind to oneself, is an internal resource that may enhance a woman's ability to adjust to cancer-related bodily changes. The aim of the present study was to test the hypothesis that self-compassion mediates the relationship between body image and distress, controlling for alternate plausible mediators. Methods Members of a nationwide breast cancer consumer network were invited to participate. A total of 279 women who had finished active cancer treatment completed the online survey. Assessments included the Body Image Scale; Self-compassion Scale; Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale and items measuring perceived normative pressure and comfort with one's weight. Possible mediating effects of proposed variables on the body image-distress relationship were assessed. Results Tests using a bootstrapping approach with multiple mediators were significant for self-compassion on distress. Body image disturbance was indirectly associated with distress through low self-compassion. Conclusions Body image disturbance and lower self-compassion were associated with increased psychological distress among these breast cancer survivors. This study provides preliminary evidence for a mediating role of self-compassion between body image disturbance and psychological distress, suggesting a potentially protective effect of higher levels of self-compassion for women at risk of experiencing body image disturbance.