Scrolling through social media and seeing models with seemingly perfect proportions can have many of us questioning our bodies. It can make us doubt our self-worth and leave us asking ourselves how we can love our bodies when we are not perfect like the people society considers the epitome of beauty.
When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Are you happy with the way you look, and satisfied with the way you feel about your body? If you don’t, then you’re not alone, and that’s alright! The first step is always acceptance and not deception.
Regardless of how society and popular culture shapes our view, body positivity arose as a social movement that advocates for the empowerment of individuals no matter what their physical size or weight is, regardless of gender, race, class, or appearance.
It also seeks to challenge the existing norms put forth by society and popular culture, regarding an “ideal body,” a concept that does not exist. Let’s further understand what body positivity is and what the movement around it espouses and promotes.
- Body positivity refers to the belief that all people deserve to have a positive body image of themselves, regardless of how society and representations in popular culture view ideal body shape, size and appearance,
- An answer to the shortcomings of the body positivity movement arose in the form of body neutrality. The difference between the two is that, while body positivity asserts that “all bodies are beautiful,” body neutrality says that “all bodies are valid”,
- Body neutrality emphasizes what our body can do, rather than what our body looks like.
What is Body Positivity?
Body positivity refers to the belief that all people deserve to have a positive body image of themselves, regardless of how society and representations in popular culture view ideal body shape, size, and appearance.
The movement first began in the 1960s, and the National Association of Advance Fat Acceptable was eventually established in 1969. The movement aimed to enable change in the way in which weight issues were spoken about.
The phrase ‘body positive’ was first coined in the year 1996 by a psychotherapist and his patient, whom he was treating for an eating disorder.
The movement truly gained popularity in 2012, when it shifted its motive from not just weight acceptance, but to acknowledging all forms of acceptance related to the body, such as cellulite, scars, skin tone, and more.
Body positivity can mean any and all of the following things:
- Appreciating your body despite its flaws,
- Feeling confident about your body,
- Loving yourself,
- Accepting your body’s shape, size, and appearance.
Body image and its presentation cause anxiety and stress for a large number of people. They feel uncomfortable in their skin and are constantly looking to change their physical appearance, sometimes resorting to surgeries.
These surgeries usually take a toll on the body and are also detrimental to their mental health. Poor body image leads to depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and other health issues.
Thus, the body positivity movement strives to facilitate acceptance and advocates to change society’s perception, as well as people’s behavior.
Body positivity activists are also vehemently against certain products and services that seek to profit off of people’s insecurities by promoting weight loss products or services or products which seek to change your appearance, such as skin whitening products.
In recent times, major cosmetic and healthcare companies are changing their brand ethos to be more acceptable, and have dropped the term ‘skin whitening’ or ‘fair’ from their product list.
Research conducted by the American Psychological Association shows that dissatisfaction with the body is on the decline, with trends indicating that men and women are more satisfied with their bodies, as societal perceptions are beginning to change and evolve and people are becoming more accepting.
Although the body positivity movement asserts that “all bodies are beautiful,” it fails to acknowledge the impact of toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is when we fail to address the reality of a problem or situation and deceive ourselves into thinking it’s “all okay.”
We fixate on the positive aspects of life as a way of coping with reality, all the while ignoring any negative emotions. The body positivity movement fails to address the complexities of body image and mental health.
While stressing positivity is beneficial, discarding negative emotions can make people feel guilty for not feeling good about themselves, thus, worsening how they feel.
We must acknowledge that feeling insecure is a part of life and that we don’t have to constantly feel positive to accept ourselves.
What is Body Neutrality?
An answer to the shortcomings of the body positivity movement arose in the form of body neutrality. The difference between the two is that, while body positivity asserts that “all bodies are beautiful,” body neutrality says that “all bodies are valid.”
Body neutrality emphasizes what our body can do, rather than what our body looks like. While body positivity advocates for beauty as a measure of acceptance, body neutrality completely disposes of the notion of beauty and stresses instead what the body can do for you.
The body neutrality movement was started in the year 2015, when a former college fitness instructor, Anne Poirier, hosted a body neutrality workshop in Vermont.
The movement focuses on remaining neutral; it teaches that one doesn’t have to feel positively or negatively about their body, that one can simply exist and be worthy of respect regardless of how they think or feel about their body.
Body neutrality also provides a safe space for people who are not yet ready to love and accept their bodies. For example, for someone with an eating disorder, going from “I do not like the way I look” to “I love my body!” can be quite a stretch.
Instead, body positivity offers breathing space in between, to contemplate, acknowledge and finally reconcile with our body without any forced positivity.
Body positivity, at times, can feel fake due to the forced positivity, whereas body neutrality is much more authentic in the fact that it does not distinguish between the positive and the negative and, instead, puts emphasis on radical self-acceptance.
Difference Between Body Positivity & Body Neutrality
Body neutrality is harder to practice than body positivity, as it’s easier to ignore the reality of a situation rather than face facts. On top of that, we’ve been fed the notion that physical beauty creates happiness our whole life, which is an extremely tough mold to break out of.
But, as with anything, practice and consistency are of vital importance to pave the way for a more body-neutral mindset.
Here are a few ways you can practice body neutrality:
- Communicate with your body about what it can and cannot do for you and give yourself some love from time to time,
- In conversation with other people, do not talk about their bodies since talking about their physicality can make them feel uncomfortable,
- Eat foods that work best for your physical self. It can be a specific eating plan or something more intuitive. In the end, it should make your body feel great,
- Wear clothing that you like the look of, is comfortable, and feels good on your body.
- Find an exercise or physical activity that you find enjoyable.
Ultimately, body neutrality is a much more comprehensive, beneficial, and authentic perspective from which to address our bodies.
Its emphasis on cohesive self-acceptance, without the need for beauty, is key. It’s a way of cherishing our bodies without succumbing to judgments.
Our relationship with our body is a lifelong journey and, at times, complicated. With the right choices and mindset, we can always pick a lifestyle that’s wholesome, healthy, stress-free, and mentally sound.
Practicing body neutrality means focusing not on what your body looks like, but on what your body can do for you. It’s the path to accepting your body the way it is and doing what’s best for it.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.