Body Neutrality: For When Body Positivity Feels Out of Reach

    Body Neutrality: For When Body Positivity Feels Out of Reach

    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.


    Why I Moved Back In With My Family At 23

    pale pink suitcase in a brightly lit room

    Young people in the U.S. today are living with their parents in larger percentages than ever before. This isn’t surprising, given the ballooning amount of student loan debt that follows many college graduates in the U.S. Combine that with the near-impossible cost of living in metropolitan areas and low pay for entry-level jobs, the current state of the economy leaves young people with next to no choice but to live at home with their family (assuming this is an option for them). Earlier this year, I made the same choice. After a few years of being on my own, I moved back in with my family at age twenty-three.

    I was laid off from my nonprofit job in Washington, DC in early 2017. At the time, I was renting a house with three of my friends, a bit further north of the city but paying reasonable rent. Of course, with the new loss of income and uncertainty about where I was going next, I realized soon enough that moving back home to the west coast was the best choice for me—mentally, professionally, and financially.

    Before I get into why I chose to move back home, I think it’s important that I list the downsides that I knew were inevitable going into this:

    • Losing a certain degree of privacy that I’ve gotten used to
    • Not being able to enjoy nightlife in the same way
    • House rules—having to do things my mom’s way (like squeegeeing the shower door every day) instead of however I was used to doing them (not caring about the shower door at all)
    • I would miss DC—not just the public transit and walkability, but also the close circle of friends, and even the mundane routines, I’d cultivated over the past three years through grad school and my job

    And still, despite all those things (the privacy one being the biggest drawback for me), I moved back in with my mom. And here are the reasons why:

    • The obvious one: not having to pay rent (kind of important to a newly unemployed 23-year-old with a scant savings account)
    • The less obvious and maybe really strange one: I missed my dog a ridiculous amount (and honestly at the time needed her for emotional support)
    • I like living with my sister; I’ve never lived alone—I’ve always lived with roommates—but even then it doesn’t bring me the same level of comfort, and comfort to me is number one
    • Professionally speaking, I didn’t want to be in the DC policy scene anymore because over the past year or so I’ve realized I’m not meant for that pace or that angle of work (more on that later)
    • Nothing really beats LA; yeah having to drive everywhere gets kind of old but the food, the weather, the culture, and the proximity to everything makes it all worth it

    I write this to say that, as many reasons as there are to move out and live on your own in your twenties, there are just as many reasons you might want to stay at home or move back in with your family.

    And despite what the dominant culture of the U.S. will tell you—and by this I mean the TV shows about twenty-something hot messes living with their friends, jokes about the loser who lives in his mom’s basement, etc.—both options are valid. In the country that I come from, as well as in many other countries and now increasingly so in the U.S., it’s the norm for people to live at home with their families and move out if and when they get married.

    In a way, this whole process has been more than just about taking care of myself mentally and financially and giving myself the space to figure out what my next career moves will be. It’s also been an exercise in learning to let go of social expectations.

    Because while I realize how normal it is for so many people around the world to live with their parents, and how in many places there is no stigma attached to this, I still find myself feeling like I need to justify doing it. I’m constantly telling people, “It’s great not having to pay rent and my mom is an awesome cook” or “I get to see my sister and my dog all the time” as if I need to have a reason to live with my family, as if this is something that needs to be justified instead of being just another valid living arrangement for adults.

    There are adjustments to moving back in with your family, of course. But there are also adjustments to living in a dorm for the first time, for living with friends, for living alone.

    For me, it’s been a pretty smooth transition from living on my own to living with my mom, with relatively few bumps. But as with anything, that might change in the future. Right now I’m allowing myself the space to take care of my needs and figure out where I want to grow without being judgmental with myself in the process.

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    Flying with Anxiety: 5 Tips On How to Make It Better

    woman sitting at the window seat of a plane looking outside the window

    I developed a fear of flying at age eleven. This was likely the result of Cast Away and some sensationalized National Geographic documentaries on plane accidents. Unfortunately, because most of my family lives an ocean away, seventeen-hour transpacific flights were a necessity throughout my youth.

    This means I’ve done my fair share of research on aviation, air travel statistics, and types of turbulence. In terms of knowledge, the most helpful resource for me has been Captain Stacey Chance’s Fear of Flying Help. It’s a free online course designed to address concerns relevant to people with flying anxiety such as turbulence and the dynamics of flight. If you’re an anxious flyer interested in gathering more information, I recommend it as a starting point. Knowledge is power to some degree, and it’s important to learn about the things you’re afraid of.

    With that said, I’m not an aviation professional. I’m just an anxious flyer who’s had twelve years of coping experience. And while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to flying anxiety, here are some things that help me.

    1. Avoid caffeine before and during your flight.

    You probably already know that caffeine and anxiety don’t mesh well. But I also know how tempting a cup of coffee can be. When you skip breakfast to make a morning flight and your gate is right by a Dunkin’ Donuts, it’s easy. I’m here to remind you that it’s a bad idea. Especially if you’re like me and one cup of coffee is enough to give you the jitters. Go with water instead—but of course make sure you’re well-fed before boarding, too.

    2. Seating matters, depending on what your needs and priorities are.

    If your priority is getting some sleep: Take the window seat. You get your own private corner and a wall to lean on. And the view doesn’t hurt either.

    If you drink a lot of water and will need bathroom access: Take the aisle seat. It’s annoying having to wake up the person next to you to let you out.

    If you have somewhere you need to be right after you land: Get a seat in the front of the plane so you can deplane right away. Save yourself the stress of waiting for everyone else to get off first.

    If you’re on a bigger plane and want to reduce the tilts and twirls: Try a seat in the middle section. I’ve heard it can reduce the sensations of turbulence due to the center of gravity. I don’t remember that it helped me much, but you may find that it works for you.

    3. Bring your version of comfort entertainment to distract yourself.

    For the readers: Bring an easy read. With my flying anxiety, I find it impossible to read the academic books I usually love—especially during turbulence. When I was younger, I had my best friend’s draft novel from middle school saved to my phone, and I read it whenever I got afraid. Now? I download Harry Potter fanfiction onto my iPad and it’s been my go-to for the past four years. The key is to find something that’s a) simple and easy to pay attention to and b) interesting enough to keep you distracted from your current predicament of being on a plane.

    For the writers: Bring a journal to scribble in when the flight gets rough. Sometimes on a really rocky flight I’ll have written ten pages nonstop. You can write about anything; for me, secrets and unprocessed feelings like to come out during these stressful flights. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself.

    For the TV/movie folks: If you have Netflix, take advantage of the download feature on your iPad or smartphone. For me, the movies I like to watch on planes are The Sweetest Thing and The Princess Diaries. I like a feel-good romantic comedy to reduce my anxiety. I can never pay attention to the new releases on in-flight entertainment—but maybe you can!

    It might take time to figure out what works for you, but it’s worth it for a more relaxing journey.

    4. Take advantage of in-flight texting or Wi-Fi where possible.

    I think my biggest hangup about flying is feeling like I’ve lost contact with the world. In the air, I usually can’t communicate with anyone outside of that plane. And if anything were to happen to me, no one would know. Luckily, technology has progressed to make in-flight communication more widely available.

    JetBlue has free Wi-Fi on their flights. And if you’re a T-Mobile user, you get unlimited texting on American Airlines flights plus one hour of free Wi-Fi. There’s something oddly soothing about texting my friends in the middle of turbulence to let them know how scared I am. It’s like despite being 30,000 feet in the air, I still have a link to world on the ground. I’m sure that in-flight texting and Wi-Fi will only become more affordable as time passes, and I’m looking forward to it.

    5. Embrace your superstitions.

    I’m generally not a superstitious person, but my deepest fears have a way of getting to me. Flying brings out the strangest side of me:

    • I used to wear my golden snitch necklace on every flight. Somehow the wings and the connection to the magical world of Harry Potter made me feel safer.
    • I’ve been saying the same prayer under my breath on every single flight since I was eleven. It’s a prayer for safe transport that I found in my grandparents’ Buddhist prayer books when I was a child.
    • I don’t listen to songs that contain lyrics about “falling” or “crashing down.” I do, however, listen to “Breaking Free” from High School Musical on repeat because it refers to “soaring” and “flying.”
    • When I fly to LAX, I listen to “Party In the USA” as if lyrics about “hopping off the plane at LAX” will make it more likely that my flight will safely arrive at its destination.

    And I’m not the only one. Apparently, Megan Fox listens to Britney Spears on planes because she knows it’s not her “destiny” to die while listening to a Britney Spears song. So if you have a quirky little ritual to calm you down during flights, I say go for it. Who’s it going to hurt?

    And if all else fails, try a glass of wine.

    For most of my life, falling asleep on planes was impossible due to my anxiety. Then I got old enough to drink and realized that sleep is possible, after all. If you’re okay with alcohol and open to the occasional drink to make flying more comfortable, then by all means go for it.

    If you have a fear of flying or get antsy on planes, I hope this post was helpful—or at least relatable!—to you. I’ll leave you with these questions.

    For my fellow anxious flyers: What are some of the ways you cope with that fear?

    For those who don’t have a fear of flying: How do you keep yourself comfortable or entertained during flights??

    Flying with Anxiety