More Than A Body; Exploring Body Neutrality

Part of the Sisterhood Series

“Your body is an instrument, not an ornament.”

Ariane Machin

Welcome to the first part in the “Sisterhood Series” where I aim to take on some pretty prominent problems, some that are still consider quite taboo, that occur for women on a daily basis in life and explore them. Before I go any further, I want to state that I mean no exclusion with this series. Everyone and anyone are welcome. In fact, I encourage everyone to read and listen to this series as we need more female advocacy and we need more kindness and support collectively as human beings in general. 

Societal pressures and media have for years, dictated what we should be, how we should look and firmly planted seeds of doubt and hate for ourselves while monopolising our minds. We are given the notion from an early age that being slim and pretty means we will be loved, that we should want to look our best for others and that marriage and children in later life is the goals we should hit to be deemed successful in fulfilling what it is to be a woman. We are taught to think that all these things make us worthy and feminine and wanting something different from this vision is wrong. 

With the global diet industry making $254.9 billion in 2021 already with a projected $377.3 billion in 2026 there’s no doubt that it pays for the media to continue to tell us that there is something wrong with us, that we need to fit a mould and they will continue to push adverts and articles in our faces because it is profitable to their pockets regardless of what it does to our mental health. There is no wonder that so many people, especially us women, who have severe issues with our body image. 

Body Positivity has been talked about in its modern form now since 2012 and so many people have been advocates of it but if you are unfamiliar with it here are the basics behind it. 

What is Body Positivity?

The goal with Body Positivity is to shift all the unrealistic feminine beauty standards forced upon us and turn it into a whole-bodied, realistic approach to seeing ourselves. Acknowledging that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that they are all beautiful. Making sure people realise that cellulite, wrinkles and stretch marks are all completely normal for example. 

One of the other main focuses of the “Body Positivity Movement” is to acknowledge that diet culture can be dangerous and unhealthy and instead we should focus on eating wholesome, nutritious foods and loving our bodies as they are. 

Criticism Around Body Positivity 

Many people have serious criticism around the message of Body Positivity, especially when it comes to the health implications of those classed as ‘obese’. Many believe that it has created a culture that has a disregard to the medical complications that often come with obesity. On the other end of the spectrum there are people who also believe that it makes people hyper vigilant of the pressures to love themselves and thus resulting in subscribing to the dangerous diet cultures regardless. 

Personally, I feel at its core, Body Positivity is all about accepting that we aren’t all the same and that is perfectly okay. Every human being deserves love and respect regardless of their appearance but most importantly the message of self-love absolutely should ring true. We have to start being kinder and more accepting as human beings and that wholeheartedly needs to start with ourselves. I do however, understand the pressure that many people feel to love themselves every single day because I struggle with this and I know many people in life, regardless of gender I have to say, who struggle too. I have invested many hours working on healing myself, discovering who I really am and most importantly, acknowledging and loving every aspect of who I am, knowing that without the darkness there would be no light in me and that my worth has never been found in my clothing size nor on what a scale says. 

It hasn’t been an easy journey for me and I can assure you that I still have a long road ahead of me but as cliché as it may seem, it truly is all about your mindset and perspective. 

As wonderful as the Body Positivity movement is, I can understand where the worries come from, more so in the case of being hyper focused on your body. Every being has the right to loving their body and we absolutely should love ourselves from top to toe but I believe that we should move the focus from the physicality of our bodies and be enamoured by what our body does for us on a daily basis. This too can be a huge step into feeling more gratitude and having more awareness in our bodies which also helps your mental health. 

This is where Body Neutrality comes in. Body Neutrality has been around since 2015 but has become more commonly talked about on social media platforms since 2019. 

What is Body Neutrality?

Where Body Positivity looks at the view that all bodies are beautiful regardless of what they look like, Body Neutrality brings the view point that everyone just ‘is’. Of course, loving your body as it is sounds great but it is still making the body your main focus. Body Neutrality aims to look beyond and allow you to see yourself as more than just body as well as appreciate the body for what it can do instead of what it looks like. It offers a more realistic mindset. The movement acknowledges that you may not love your body every day and aims to emphasize that that is absolutely okay. You can accept your body as it is, even if you don’t love it day in, day out. 

Body Neutrality draws a lot more on mindfulness and being in tune with your body and it’s needs. It helps you recognise and prioritise how you feel in your body, moving your body because it feels good for you to do so and not because you had carbs last night or you feel forced to exercise. Body Neutrality doesn’t mean making unhealthy choices. It means that you may focus more on having a strong and healthy body that lets you do the things you need it to do instead of what you are constantly putting in to your body. It means listening to your body and it’s needs. 

I know for me, I try to eat as cleanly as I can for my own health, I try not to eat heavy meals after certain times or have carbohydrates for dinner and make these conscious decisions based on making sure I feel the best within myself, not because I’m worried about what a scale says. I also have days where having some pasta is what I need to lift my spirits and I don’t want to restrict myself if I’m celebrating an occasion or having a movie day with my kids. Like most things, it’s all about balance and knowing what makes you feel better within yourself. 

At its core, Body Neutrality is about challenging the idea of having to love your body and your physical appearance in order to feel good in it. If we take it back to basics, your body is your daily vehicle that carries you from place to place enabling you to enjoy your life, your way. When you respect it, care for it, put fuel in it, rest it and give it the movement it needs, you’ll probably notice improvement in the way it functions. 

You don’t have to love it, you don’t have to hate it, you can simply accept it for what it is and appreciate what it does. The Body Positivity movement is a great start to changing people’s views of each other, it’s a way to gaining acceptance and showing kindness to each other and that is key these days, however, being forced to constantly love yourself day in, day out and use body positive mantras when you don’t completely feel it can also be very damaging to your mental health. It can make you feel like you are failing, you are constantly telling yourself you should love yourself but it makes you even more distressed and potentially leaves you feeling worse about yourself. 

How can you practice Body Neutrality?

If, like myself, you have had days where you have annoyed yourself to a point of nausea thinking about your body, here are a few tips to help you start thinking more neutrally about your body. 

  1. Take body talk off of the conversation menu. This includes the conversations you have with yourself about your body. Instead of crying about jeans not fitting you, choose something you feel confident and comfortable in. 
  2. It’s okay to redirection conversation. If a friend or family member brings up weight, body size or expresses feeling unhappy with their body, know it’s okay to talk about how you or they feel, rather than focus on appearances. 
  3. Eat the foods you want to eat. Balance is definitely key. Choose to give your body the essential nourishment it needs in fresh, wholesome foods but also don’t be ashamed to have a desert if you want it or eat something you really want to have. Don’t deny yourself and risk fighting the craving later. 
  4. Listen to your body. Make exercising fun and something you enjoy, don’t opt for one that is supposed to be effective but leaves you feeling miserable. On those days you are feeling drained or tired, don’t give yourself a hard time for needing the rest. 
  5. Acknowledge your thoughts and try to flip them. When you are having one of those days where you start mentally picking at yourself, think about what is going on for you in that moment instead that makes you do it. Label your thought “Thinking” and see it as a passing cloud, it is temporary. 
  6. Allow yourself time. It took you many years to adopt the viewpoint you have of yourself so it will take time and a lot of constant effort and practice to change your mindset. Try to have patience and embrace the process. 
  7. Remember what you see on social media is a highlight reel. As much as many are trying to be me more neutral, open and raw on social media, the vast majority of images are snippets of that person’s life. The images are filtered, altered or posed for the optimal like rate

Both Body Positivity and Body Neutrality have really clear, positive messages around them and I’m not saying that one is better than the other. It is most definitely personal preference, some people may really get on well with self-love affirmations and Body Positivity principals and others, myself for one, can see the positives in it but can feel a lot of pressure when we don’t always feel in a head space of loving or hating our body. I do believe however, that even though Body Neutrality is supposed to circumnavigate the Body Positivity Movement that the two could easily be practiced simultaneously.

Body Positivity can help increase your self-esteem and encourages love and care for the body while Body Neutrality emphasises what your body can do, encourages mindfulness and takes the focus away from the physical appearance of the body. Adopting a bit of both of these practices will allow you to love your body for how it looks, regardless of its shape and size, while also appreciating all the amazing things it can do. 

Can you imagine what would happen if we all woke up one day and just decided to accept ourselves as we are and instead of changing ourselves because we feel we “need to” or “should” because of a multi-billion-dollar industry and focused on how we truly feel and strived for feeling our best instead of looking our best? When everything is said and done, your body is for you and you alone, its purpose and existence is far greater than for it just to be admired and objectified. Your worth can’t be found in the mirror, it can’t be found in the quick fix diets or in daily weigh-ins, your worth is too great to be measured in these ways. 

Love hard. Be fierce. Horns high.