Banish Body Positivity, and Embrace Body Neutrality
Body image is something that plenty of people — especially women — struggle with. Women are under a ton of pressure to look a certain way that’s often impossible to achieve and can leave them feeling inadequate. Many girls and women don’t always feel great about their physical appearance. However, two specific movements have emerged as a way to help those dealing with body image issues. Body positivity is one you’ve probably heard of. Body positivity is a phrase that’s often thrown around and essentially refers to only feeling positively toward your body. Body neutrality is another movement that involves, as our source defined it, not focusing so much on our physical appearances. Learn more about body neutrality and why this might be an effective way of coping with body-image issues.
1What Is Body Neutrality?
There’s a continuum of people’s feelings about their bodies, ranging from hatred to love. Body neutrality is in the middle of that continuum and aims to, in our source’s definition, actually put less emphasis on our physical bodies and more on our inner qualities.
“Let's look at ourselves as a vessel and who we are, and how we can move through our days,” says Anne Poirier, a certified intuitive eating counselor of Shaping Perspectives.
Here’s a longer definition:
“One of the ways I describe it is the quieting or the turning down of the volume of all the noise that's in our heads. Not only internal noise, like our own self-talk, beating ourselves up or hating on body parts, but also external noise, what we see in society, how we interpret our bodies compared to other people,” Poirier says. “Turning up the volume on who we are as individuals, in ourselves and our bodies, and trusting ourselves and tuning in to who we really are and looking at our bodies in a completely different way. Seeing them as these functional vessels that allow us to experience our life versus as an ornament.”
2What Is Body Positivity?
The origins of body positivity trace back to the fat acceptance movement that started back in the 1960s.
“It's still looking at the external body and feeling positive about the size and shape of my body as it is, period, regardless of what other people think. Regardless of what society thinks or anybody else, I can feel, and I deserve to feel, positive about my body,” Poirier says.
3The Downsides of Body Positivity
“One of the cons about body positivity is it's still focused on just the body,” Poirier says. Placing too much importance on our physical appearance can ultimately hurt us. As much as looks do matter, they’re not everything. One of the exercises Poirier gives her clients is when she asks them to tell her what they like about their friends.
“It's never about the size of their body. It's always about all these other wonderful traits and qualities and strengths that they have,” Poirier says.
Body neutrality can be a better approach to body image because there isn’t as much focus on how our bodies look.
“Body neutrality is really trying to look at us as a whole individual and focusing on who we really are versus the size and shape of our body. It’s more of just a neutral, ‘This is my body. I don't have to love it. I don't have to hate it. I can do the things that I am good at, and I can like myself and who I am in the world without tying it to the size, the shape of my body,” Poirier says.
4Criticisms of Body Neutrality
Some feel that body neutrality is giving up on improving your body. But let’s say you want to make an effort to exercise more or eat healthier foods. The way to frame that, instead of “I want to look better,” is “I want to respect myself more.”
“What we're trying to do with body neutrality is respect ourselves and honor our bodies. Honor these vessels that do take us through our lives,” Poirier says. Leading a healthier lifestyle can be a part of that approach.
5The Positives of Both
Both approaches can help boost your self-confidence, self-acceptance, self-worth, and self-esteem. Poirier feels that body neutrality can ultimately help us even more since there is much less of a focus on our physical appearance, which we can only control to a certain degree.
“Allowing yourself to step away from the far end of hatred, of scale on that continuum, and stepping into body neutrality, it does allow for more self-acceptance and more self-worth and self-esteem,” Poirier says.
6Why You Might Consider Body Neutrality
If you’re one of the many people out there who struggles with feeling negative about your body, or you have been stuck dieting for a long time, body neutrality might help you. For some, trying to always feel positive about their body might be too much of an emotional stretch to reach. Body neutrality may be able to help one accept their own physical appearance and focus more on other important attributes they have. Body neutrality may help change their self-perception.
“With society today, there's just so much focus and so much stigmatization on people in different-size bodies, especially if they're out of the norm. And if you're in a place of not liking your body, there are so many things you don't do. You don't say yes to things that you might say yes to. There is low self-esteem. There is low self-worth,” Poirier says. “If I can move toward body neutrality, a neutral place with my body, that I'm not hating on it, then at least I start to increase my self-esteem a little bit.”
7Steps to Reach Body Neutrality
Here are Poirier’s steps to help you reach body neutrality.
Decide you want to change your feelings toward your body. If you find that you’re always having negative feelings toward your body, try saying, “I don’t have to hate my body.”
Start to have body gratitude. Appreciate your body for what it can do. For example, “My legs help me run or walk my dog.”
Speak more compassionately toward your body. If you find yourself thinking, “My legs are too fat.” Counter that thought with, “My legs took me all over the city today.”
Comb through your social media feeds and unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself or focus on diet culture.
Focus on your other qualities and strengths. Maybe you’re a nice person who does charity work. Shift your perception of yourself and try to see yourself differently.
If body positivity feels like it’s too out of reach for you, body neutrality might be a more accessible approach.
“For some people, they'll never get to body positivity because it’s not in line with who they are. They might get to body appreciation, or body acceptance, or body respect, but feeling positive in their body might not be a place that they get to. So it might be a little too far,” Poirier says. “I think everybody can get to a space of body neutrality.”