The Benefits of Body Neutrality in a Body Positive Society
It’s hard work to love yourself. And it’s okay when there are times you don’t.
“Love the skin you’re in.” The idea of body positivity sounds good in theory. It sounds good if you don’t think too hard about it. Simply be happy with the numbers on the scale. Love the way your stomach rolls underneath that dress. Rejoice in all of your curves! But how attainable — and inclusive — is body positivity, really?
Let’s break it down for a sec. The idea of body positivity — of loving and celebrating your body — comes from a root of good intention. It comes from those seeking liberation and freedom from fat stereotypes, originated by marginalized overweight black and queer folk. And it’s been around for decades.
So why has it strayed so far from that?
You’ve probably seen the body-positive TikToks. You know the ones. With the girls who suck in their guts, only to let it all loose at the beat drop. The ones who can maintain the label of a socially acceptable “skinny,” but can also reveal their FUPAs by unzipping their jeans after a long day.
They’re the ones who want you to see that “bodies that look like this, also look like this.” It’s all well and good for them, but it does beg the question: are these people capitalizing on a movement not meant for their body type?
Hip hop icon Lizzo (First of Her Name, Mother of Flutes and Queen of TikTok), said it best when she pointed out that the ones meant to be benefiting from body positivity are the ones getting left behind. “People are finally celebrating medium and small girls and people who occasionally get rolls,” said Lizzo. “Fat people are still getting the short end of this movement.”
Combining Lizzo’s compelling point here with the knowledge that it’s downright exhausting to try and love your body every single day, and we’ve reached a seemingly dead end.
Enter Body Neutrality.
Body Neutrality asks us to love our body for what it can do, versus how it appears. After all, physical appearance isn’t the only criteria that defines us. And let’s face it — even just looking in the mirror can be a freakin’ challenge most days. We’re not always going to love the way those jeans fit us, or the way we look in that candid photo our mom took of us on vacation.
Practicing body neutrality allows us to take the focus away from forced positivity, and reframes our view on the way our bodies function. What if instead of forcing yourself to love the way your stomach looks after eating breakfast, you appreciated it for turning that food into the energy that you need for the day?
Imagine loving your arms for the way they carry a dozen bags of groceries up three flights of stairs. Imagine feeling grateful for shoulders that hoist a bag full of books across campus every morning, instead of criticizing yourself for how it looks.
It’s important to note: there is some able-bodied privilege attached to the idea of being grateful for how your body works. But this frame of thinking does allow for more inclusivity. Those with disfigurations, eating disorders, and gender identity questions might find it more difficult to feel body-positive than others.
The benefit here is that body neutrality eliminates the need for constant positivity that might even feel toxic. The body positivity movement has morphed into consumerism and commercialism that has felt difficult to connect with.
With neutrality, we are allowed to shift to a more mindful focus. Self-esteem and self-love is not the focal point. It’s about living contently knowing your body is your own and is capable of giving you life.
Is it possible to practice both positivity and neutrality? Definitely. You could feel both on different days, in different circumstances. It can take some serious mental olympics to feel happy with your physical appearance, especially when social media floods your account with a body-positive standard that seems impossible to achieve.
But your body also does a million little things for you every single day, and that is something worth recognizing, if not celebrating.
And Queen Lizzo says it best: “You are capable. You deserve to feel good as hell, and you deserve to find that.”