I recently learned about the concept of body neutrality. It’s a step down from body positivity—a compromise between hating your body and loving it. And it looks like a pretty good alternative. Let’s be real: loving your body and feeling positive about it is way easier said than done. Body neutrality is a much more realistic bar. Rather than loving or hating your body, why not work towards neutrality? Why not aim to live a life where you’re not overly conscious of your own body?
Body positivity is tough, and it might not be for everyone. And that’s okay.
Think about all the ways we are told to be ashamed of our bodies. Diets. Weight loss programs. Articles about getting the “perfect beach body.” Workout tips to “lose that muffin top.” All of these things warp our relationships with our bodies in one way or another.
And yes, I appreciate the existence of body-positive Instagrams and websites. I love seeing drawings of folks who are fat and have stretch marks. Photographs of fat people modeling lingerie. We definitely need more of these images to counter the cultural narrative that “beautiful” is a description limited to the few. Still, all the body-positive images in the world may not be enough to get everyone to truly love their bodies. I know I still struggle with it.
You spent your whole life learning to hate your body. It’s going to be a lifelong process unlearning it, too.
Why do we often talk about body positivity as if it’s easy? Yes, you’re worthy of love; yes, the way you look shouldn’t and doesn’t determine who you are. But knowing these things isn’t the same as feeling them.
For me, I can post or reblog all the inspirational, body-positive quotes and drawings I want. And I can see beauty in all of these people. But to shift that gaze onto myself—my reflection in the mirror—is a different story. That takes a lot more.
I know fat women can wear whatever the hell we want—crop tops, large stripes, loud colors, lingerie. But that doesn’t erase all the times I was told in my teens not to do those things. When you grow up learning that you should hide your figure in dark colors and one-piece swimsuits, loving your body is hard.
Maybe instead of striving to love your body, we should be striving to not think about it so much.
Try imagining a life where you’re not constantly thinking about your body. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s tough. Think about the times your jeans felt tighter than usual, times you were out of breath walking up the stairs. How do you feel about your body in these moments? Do you scold yourself for overindulgence, for letting yourself get “weak”?
What would life be like if you were at peace with your own body? You don’t have to love your stretch marks. Just accept that they’re there. You don’t have to appreciate your body for its strength, because not all of us can be physically strong. And that’s okay.
Your body is simply the vessel you live in—whatever it looks like and whatever it is capable of doing.
I once thought the stronger I got, the more I’d love my body—no matter how I looked. I used to push myself to exercise because I thought strength was the answer to feeling good about myself. Now I know this doesn’t work. Because a fixation on strength is still an obsession with your body, on the things it can and can’t do. And not only does it strain your relationship with your body, but it’s ableist as well.
Body neutrality might help address the body positivity movement’s inclusivity problem.
The body positivity movement hasn’t always been inclusive of everyone. Here’s the obvious: a good chunk of the body positivity movement centers able-bodied cisgender white women. But they’re not the only ones struggling with body acceptance. What about people with disabilities, trans people, gender nonconforming people, people of color, and so many others?
Lots of people struggle to accept and love their bodies. Many have their own valid reasons, and they all deserve to be heard. For example, writer and activist Keah Brown describes her relationship with her body as a person with cerebral palsy in this essay:
… in a perfect world I would just talk myself out of my contempt for my body. I would wake up one morning, look in the mirror to say I am beautiful and actually believe it. I would kiss each deformed bone in my body and dismantle the patriarchy all before checking my morning emails. In a perfect world, I could do all of those things, but in this world — this real world — I can’t. Not yet.
Yes, in a perfect world, everyone—of all genders, abilities, sizes—would be able to feel strong and beautiful. I wish that for everyone, including myself. But why do we have to feel strong or beautiful? When we know on some level that our worth isn’t attached to our bodies, why does it dictate our self-esteem?
I’m not saying body neutrality is the answer. But it’s an option for those of us who struggle with the leap to body positivity.
It’s impossible to hold everyone to the same standard of body positivity. Let’s make the bar more realistic, more inclusive. If you’re in the same boat as I am, let’s try striving for body neutrality instead.