Love your body. Three innocent words that are strung together in an attempt to convey a positive message to all females, yet, is loaded with so many nuances that may leave some women feeling excluded, ashamed and, ironically, unloving toward their bodies.
The body positive movement is exactly what it sounds like. The movement aims to encourage women to love their bodies unconditionally, no matter its shape, size and perceived ‘flaws’. It preaches the idea to look beyond outward appearance.
Still, for so many women, loving their bodies can feel so out of reach. Loving your body and your whole self is a beautiful way to live life, and more power to the ones who can, but what about the rest of us that don’t fit in that philosophy?
Body positivity may require more work than one may have the capacity for. Why can’t women stop obsessing about their bodies altogether? Are we allowed to not have feelings towards our bodies?
Cue: body neutrality.
What is body neutrality?
The body neutrality movement is exactly what it sounds like. The movement aims to encourage women to go beyond appearance. It encourages breaking certain habits that may make women feel negative toward themselves. It calls for a stop to behaviours that perpetuate eating disorders and disordered eating in our modern day diet culture.
Embracing body neutrality is about coming to peace with your body and embracing all female bodies and celebrates femininity in all it’s varieties. If body shaming is at one end of the spectrum and body positivity on the other, body neutrality kind of sits in the middle.
Megan Crabbe, author of Body Positive Power summarises this concept:
“Body acceptance is about accepting this is the body you have, and feeling neutral about that fact. It means not thinking that you’re flawless and bootylicious 24/7, but also not thinking that you’re hideous and have to change. Actually, it’s not thinking very much about your body very much at all, just accepting that how it looks is how it looks, and getting on with your days.”
Why can body neutrality be more accessible than body positivity?
Dr Laura Thomas, PhD, RNtur, author of best-selling book Just Eat It, is a huge advocate of body neutrality, acceptance and feeling neutral about your body. Neutrality in the sense of not being passionately obsessed with it, or punishing it, or desperately looking to change it.
She clarifies that in the history of body positivity, at it’s inception in the 1960s and 1970s, it wasn’t about loving yourself and your body, but about treating it with kindness and respect. But the movement has taken a different shape as it began to gain momentum online on social media in more recent times.
Thomas explains that this phenomenon sets up another tier for woman, which is inaccessible to both herself and her clients, for whom the idea of being so accepting is way too out of reach. So instead, she finds that body neutrality is much more inclusive and less damaging. Removing the emotional energy and cognitive resources that body positivity requires, allows more energy to be dedicated to other facets of life such as careers and relationships.
Additionally, body positivity has been criticised for a celebration of only “acceptable fat” bodies (UK size 14 to 18) and physically able bodies. Meaning that women that don’t fit into that category are still largely underrepresented. Other criticisms include an extreme focus of ‘healthy’ to a point of ‘unhealthy’ and, overall, a lack of intersectionality.
Body Neutral In Real Life
Many of us will likely be in a place of cognitive dissonance, battling between knowing that diets don’t work and wrestling with wanting to change our bodies regardless. But while working on this, on the road to body neutrality, can we show our bodies some respect?
This might look different for everyone, but some of the ways we could show our bodies respect could be regular nourishment, daily body stretches, daily meditation, regular trips to the doctor for routine health check-ups and basic, necessary care of your body.
Body acceptance and respect sits within the realm of body neutrality. And what this encourages women to do is to love your body enough to care for it. This involves more than nutrition and numbers on a scale, it also includes addressing mental health needs, conscious and purposeful self-care activities.
Body neutrality may be more accessible than body positivity, however, may still be difficult to attain. Understandably, achieving body neutrality is easier said than done. Start with a focus on body respect, this will help bring you one step closer to loving your body for all that it is.