top background

Can’t be body positive? Be body neutral instead

For a long time the term ‘body positive’ has pervaded our conversations with the intention of supporting our mental as well as physical health, but is that always the case?

Body neutral

Body positivity/body confidence are terms intended to help us accept the beauty in diversity, in a culture that arguably places more emphasis on appearance than ever before, courtesy of the prevalence of social media, consumerism/capitalism and the Internet as a whole.

But is that what it achieves?

In many ways, the concept of body positivity has done wonders for the conversation around appearance. We talk far more openly about airbrushing, the difference between an online wonderland and real people, and celebrities have vocalised objections to their heavily altered appearances in magazines.

Who can forget Kate Winslet’s anger in 2008 when Vanity Fair published overtly airbrushed images of her? The incident was followed by a wave of conversations and by 2015 she insisted her contract with cosmetics giant L’Oréal state that her photos could not be retouched.

“I feel bad that I don’t love my…flaws.”

But has the concept of body positivity also created yet another competitive, self flagellating standard for us to try to meet? In her article ‘Forcing Myself To Love My Body Didn’t Work’, writer Anne Marie Rooney wrote: “Body positivity is hard for me, and this fact actually makes me feel worse when it comes to my body image—I feel bad that I don’t love my…flaws.”

For every time the term is used to empower an individual, there is an Instagram account that shows a level of fabulousness that many of us simply don’t feel we can personally achieve. What is wrong with us for waking up in the morning and not being so wholly overjoyed by our cellulite or our stretch marks? Even if we understand academically that it’s OK to be perfectly imperfect, what is wrong with us that we can’t make our emotions react the way we want them to?

Has body positivity become another stick with which to smack ourselves? And if so, what’s the alternative?

So this is where a number of people, mostly women, but it applies to all of us, have started to extend the conversation to the possibility of neutrality?

When Ari Ya wrote her article, A Realist’s Approach for Times When ‘Loving Your Body’ Feels Unattainable, on The Mighty, she said: “Body neutrality is an idea that recognises not everyone can love every part of their body all of the time. Our relationships with our bodies are nonlinear and exist on a spectrum. Self-love is a high standard that everyone is deserving of, but may not be able to achieve.”

Her observations are extremely well reasoned, she notes how many of us end up subsidising the “shame we’re told we shouldn’t feel about the way our bodies look” for the “shame for not being able to consistently feel self-love.” Crucially, she notes that this is a “realist approach that suggests we accept our body as existing without engaging in an emotional reaction toward it,” and that this can be a “stepping stone toward body positivity or as an endpoint in and of itself.”

“Body neutrality recognises not everyone can love every part of their body all of the time”

Importantly, the concept is not to be misconstrued with a dissociation from one’s body, but simply the mindfulness to try to approach it with neither positive or negative connotations. There is the practical knowledge that your body performs an important function - it is the place in which you live, and therefore it is important to look after it in whichever way you choose. What neutrality offers, is simply the goal of a peaceful mindset with minimal headspace to either positive or negative thoughts.

The concept will make perfect sense to anyone who has practised or even read about mindfulness, and for Anne Marie Rooney, it is interconnected with her own Buddhism practice, noting: “being neutral allows your mind and emotions to rest—to find calm, balance, and inner peace.”

“being neutral allows your mind and emotions to rest”

What it allows for, is almost an out of body perspective that lets you acknowledge what you are unhappy about in an observant rather than emotional way, acknowledge it, but not engage with it emotionally. That is far more than simply accepting or being happy with what you’ve got.

Or, as Ari Ya puts it: “We are far from a post-body image society, but we can work toward both loving our bodies and not thinking about them so much. We can certainly try to love our bodies when we can, feel neutral about them when we can’t, and know that there is no shame in that.”

More posts similar to this one

If you like this post, here are some similar ones that you might be interested in: