Is there a place for middle ground in a world full of polar opposites? Not just love and hate, but an in-between? In the realm of body image, the middle ground may be body neutrality. The movement of body neutrality sprouted as an alternative to the popular body positive stance. Why the shift?
The body positive movement seems ideal. From its inception, it aimed to include those often ostracized by society’s toxic beauty standards. It preaches that all bodies are beautiful, and screw what mainstream media (or anyone, for that matter) has to say.
Nothing is perfect. The body positivity movement is not exempt from reality and has its pitfalls. A form of body liberation has turned into a hyperfocus on one’s body. In response to being trained for years to belittle our appearance, body positivity says to actively combat those thoughts with pure optimism. It doesn’t allow for anything less than 100% loving yourself.
Unfaltering self-love is an amazing concept; it’s just not reality. We are humans and have our off moments. No one can be happy perpetually. When you consider those who not only struggle with body image but have an eating disorder, body dysmorphia or are consistently shamed for being fat, total body positivity doesn’t seem achievable to many.
Hence, it’s exclusionary. The image for body positivity has morphed into a stereotypical white, female model with a toned stomach, big boobs and a big butt. That woman has become the image of inclusion for the movement and companies who push “diversity” and “plus-size” lines. Where are the people of color, those with disabilities or LGBTQ people? How about the men or nonbinary people, those who don’t have model features and people who don’t live in the Western world?
Anyone who doesn’t fit into the accepted range of fat is still shamed into hating their bodies. Those who fall under the descriptor of thin also face exclusion from body positivity. With an aim of correcting a fat-phobic society, thin people whose bodies are heralded as desirable but still struggle with self-image seek a movement that pertains to them. Jameela Jamil states it clearly in her interview with Trevor Noah why the body positive movement may not be for everyone. For an alternative, body neutrality may be the answer.
Loving your body wasn’t working, and hating your body is not the route to go. How about accepting yourself enough to just be at peace with your body? No having to trick yourself into believing that the aspect of your body that makes you unhappy is actually gorgeous. Looking at yourself in the mirror and repeating the “I am beautiful” mantra no longer has to be part of the daily routine. See yourself as you are, accept it, and move on.
Yes, move on. Body neutrality can provide a sense of release and push aside that paralyzing pressure. Loving yourself is hard, but with body neutrality, you don’t necessarily have to. Acknowledge the times when negativity slips in, and push past it. Don’t dwell in it, but don’t put yourself down for being human.
As much as Instagram posts trick people into thinking that others are constantly happy, it’s not reality. No one’s mind constantly embodies your favorite uplifting-quotes page. No one’s daily life mirrors any social media feed. Life is real, raw and certainly more than just aesthetics. It’s time to move away from the importance of achieving beauty. Looks aren’t everything.
Bodies are designed for function rather than appearance. We were not created to be picturesque statues but people with the ability to do tasks. Body neutrality shifts the focus away from how the body looks and onto what the body can achieve. Bodies have the ability to do incredible feats each and every day. Your body works to keep you alive, which is astounding in and of itself. Body neutrality invites people to praise their bodies for what they do, not for how they look.
Body neutrality is about how your body feels, not how you feel about your body. Each person can assess what their body’s needs are. Is it some TLC? Is it a dance session or a long run? Some body positivity advocates shun the idea of working out because it is a manifestation of hating yourself. Body neutrality combats that with wanting to feel good, strong and healthy. Bethany Meyers even founded The Be.Come Project to negate the premise that working out has to be based on aesthetics. A jog can be preparation for that long-dreamt-of hike at Machu Picchu, and not to fit into a smaller pair of jeans.
Life is about that dream hike. It’s about that insightful new take on mundane work tasks. It’s about the amazing people you will meet. Life is not about how your body looks or how much you weigh. Body neutrality is spending less time staring at the mirror and more time at your vision board. It allows you to just be.
Body neutrality aims to help give people their lives back. The fruitless hours of the mirror mantras, looking up the newest fad diet, or other body-centric practices are time-consuming. Devote those hours to living life to the fullest and not focusing on one aspect of yourself.
Body neutrality can be practiced by all. It’s the proposed inclusive solution to the exclusionary aspect of the body positive movement. However, society is still fat-phobic. It’s possible for someone to practice body neutrality but still face discrimination from society.
Nothing is perfect in our imperfect world. Body neutrality, like body positivity, is no exception. Body neutrality is not the easy way out of societal body issues. It takes time and effort to achieve. Shifting one’s perspective, regardless of whether it’s to body neutrality or body positivity, is not an overnight occurrence.
Nothing is one-size-fits-all, so it’s important to see what ideology works for you. Whatever path will allow you to live your best and fullest life is the one you should take. Love your body, or simply make peace with it. You decide.