Body neutrality is a body image mindset that involves not being too concerned or focused on the way your body looks, and simply being neutral about it. Body neutrality is about not thinking too much about your body one way or another, good or bad, and letting your body just exist as part of you. Before we dive into more details about body neutrality, however, let’s discuss what body image means in general.
The relationship you have with your body and your image can make a significant difference when it comes to your mental health and your quality of life. Often, how you feel about your body will influence a healthy or unhealthy relationship with food, exercise, and even how much self-esteem you have.
Unfortunately, there are many factors in our lives which can cultivate a sense of “body negativity.” The media and portrayals of “the perfect body” lead to problematic comparisons between body shapes. Body negativity can also be caused by emotionally abusive relationships, bullying, issues with self-confidence, and unrealistic portrayals of ‘perfect’ bodies in the media from photo editing software..
The problem of body negativity can also begin very early in life. Up to 50% of people as young as 6-8 years old don’t like some aspect of their body. Increased awareness of negative body image has prompted a greater focus on “body positivity” movements in recent years. This social, worldwide movement aims to promote acceptance, positivity and even pride for all body types and sizes. Essentially, every body is a good body.
While body positivity has its benefits, it may not be the right solution for everyone. Some people may find they achieve a better quality of life with a focus on body neutrality.
Let’s discuss both body positivity and body neutrality, so you can make an informed decision on which stance suits you best.
What is Body Positivity? An Introduction
Body positivity is a global, social movement which encourages people to appreciate their body, regardless of its shape or size. Having a positive body image isn’t just about believing your body looks good. It’s about knowing your body is good, regardless of how it looks. People with a positive body image understand and appreciate their body’s strengths and limitations and strive not to subscribe to the media’s unrealistic standards of beauty.
As a body-positive person, you would practice feeling confident and comfortable in your own skin. Body positivity also encourages people to be more accepting of others, regardless of their physical appearance. The movement has helped to introduce the idea that all body types are beautiful.
Body positivity can be a very important concept for some people who struggle with their self-esteem. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and all of us experience things we would usually deem “ugly” at some point, such as zits, cellulite, or wrinkles. By becoming “body positive”, you learn to appreciate your body as it is.
Body positivity helps us to be more realistic about the variety of different body types there are in the world, so we stop holding ourselves to unreasonable standards. However, there have been various criticisms of the practice over the years.
Why is Body Positivity Sometimes Problematic?
On the surface, body positivity seems as if it could only be a good thing. We all want to feel good about ourselves, and how we look. However, some criticisms have begun to emerge in the face of this movement. For instance, some people believe the body positive movement has led to an unhealthy culture which encourages people to disregard the medical health risks of weight gain. Excessive belly fat, for example, can cause other health problems.
While it’s healthy to be confident and positive about your body, it can veer towards unhealthy if you lose sight of the very real health risks of excessive body fat.
You don’t need a tiny waist to be healthy, but the more weight you gain, the more risks you face with your health, from diabetes and high blood pressure, to heart disease.
Some parts of the body positivity movement may seem to promote and even champion obesity as a “healthy” option. However, the reality is people should still be encouraged to maintain a healthy weight and care for their body with the right amount of exercise and good nutrition.
Another issue linked to the body positivity movement, is an overwhelming obsession with appearance. While initially, the movement was intended to prevent people from worrying too much about how they looked, it has encouraged some people to become more concerned with their appearance. People even feel pressured to engage in dangerous exercise and diet regimes because they feel it will prove they “love” their bodies.
What is Body Neutrality?
As issues around the body positivity movement continue to build, new concepts such as “body neutrality” have emerged as a potential alternative. Similarly to body positivity, the body neutrality movement encourages people to be less concerned with achieving a perceived ideal or “perfect body”.
With body neutrality, you accept your body as it is and neither champion the desire to be skinny or overweight. Simply put, you take a neutral perspective towards your body. When you’re spending less time thinking about what you look like thanks to body neutrality, you can focus more on being healthy in general and that includes spending time thinking about your career goals, passions, and hobbies.
With body neutrality, you’ll praise what your body can do, rather than how it looks. For instance, whether you love your thighs or not, you learn to appreciate the fact that they help you walk, run, climb, hike and cycle. No matter how you feel about your body from an aesthetic perspective, the body neutrality movement reminds you to be thankful for everything your body allows you to do.
Body positivity may be considered to be a healthy mindset, but it’s still very looks-focused. Body neutrality could be a more effective mentality than body positivity because it helps to remind us of what’s really important: our health, not our looks. Whether you’re a skinny person, or a larger individual, you can still be healthy if you focus on looking after yourself.
Being “Aware” of Your Body
One point to note for anyone thinking of making the shift from body positivity to body neutrality, is that awareness is still key. Body neutrality doesn’t mean ignoring your body and how you feel about it entirely. Instead, body neutrality shifts the focus from your weight and appearance, to a focus on physical ability and overall health.
Being mindful and aware of your body is valuable because it helps you to understand which aspects of your life may be detrimental to your wellbeing. Mindfulness and remaining connected to your body (despite being neutral about how it looks) can help you to avoid health issues like body dissociation, where you feel disconnected from your physical body. Dissociation is a health condition that is not considered to be healthy.
If you don’t feel connected to your body, you’re less likely to worry about the impact drinking a lot of alcohol, smoking cigarettes or binge eating might have on your health. In fact, these unhealthy vices are quite common in people who tend to dissociate instead of being mindful, present and connected.
Being “aware” of your body is also a great way to look for ways to improve your overall happiness and health. For instance, when you’re aware, mindful and connected to your body, you may notice your body always feels unusual after you’ve eaten dairy products. This could then prompt you to discover a food sensitivity such as lactose intolerance.
How to Practice Body Neutrality
To become more neutral about your body image, the first thing you need to do is shift your mindset and change your attitude about your body image. Ultimately, people who are body neutral understand that they’re predisposed to feel uncomfortable about how they look from time to time, in an environment constantly prompting a specific picture of the “ideal body”.
Once you recognize your self-esteem issues are being projected onto you by external factors, it’s easier to ignore those influences, and focus more on your physical health and wellbeing.
You can adopt a more body neutral mindset by:
- Focusing on what your body can physically do, instead of how it looks: Concentrate on what your body does for you, rather than what it looks like. Appreciate that your heart beats without you thinking or that your uterus allowed you to carry a child for nine months. Remember your body is an incredible creation, regardless of what it looks like.
- Showing compassion: Being grateful for the things your body can do, doesn’t mean you should be berating yourself for the things it can’t. Bodies change with age, illness, childbirth, and many other circumstances. If your body’s abilities change, show compassion and remind yourself there’s still a lot you can do.
- Putting health before appearance: When you begin to feel negatively about your body, ask yourself whether it’s your perception of your body’s appearance, or your health that’s driving your concerns. If you’re worried about eating an extra slice of cake because of what people might say, you can disregard those thoughts. If you’re concerned because you know the cake isn’t good for your blood sugar or weight, you can explore the thought further.
- Realize your body is just one part of you: As important as your body is to your life, it’s only one part of the things that make you, you. Ultimately, your body is a tool for your mind and spirit. Remember, there’s more to you than what you can physically do, or what you look like.
Body Positivity and Body Neutrality: The Best of Both Worlds?
Although there are some criticisms about the body positivity movement worth being aware of, it’s important to remember that feeling positive about how you look doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Body positivity promotes strong self-esteem and encourages you to love and care for your body, no matter what it might look like.
The important thing to remember is your body positivity shouldn’t get in the way of living a healthy life. You should still be taking steps to learn about your health and wellbeing, and what you can do to promote them.
For many people, the right mentality might not be either “body positivity” or “body neutrality”, but a combination of both. For instance, you can maintain the positive self-esteem that comes with body positivity, while still focusing on your health over your appearance.
Now that you know what the difference is between body positivity and body neutrality, why not share this article with someone you care about who struggles with body image?