Why Body Neutrality is as Important as Body Positivity





I know I write a lot about Body Positivity here, and I do believe in it wholeheartedly. Being able to think the happy, big upping, self-accepting thoughts about yourself after a lifetime of mostly not is pretty amazing, no question.

But something I am still learning about, and appreciating more and more recently as I transition out of the "honeymoon” phase of discovering Body Positivity, is what might actually be just as, if not MORE important to the self -acceptance journey: Body Neutrality.

Body Neutrality is slightly more difficult to promote/recommend than Body Positivity. It just doesn’t sound all that exciting, to be honest. Being body neutral means just that, you are not thinking negative or positive thoughts about yourself; you are simply existing in your body as is, in as non-judgemental a way as possible, ideally, trying to give it as little thought as possible, or address any negative thoughts you may be having without judgement or forced cheer.

It all sounds terribly zen and maybe a bit smug Gwyneth Paltrow-esque if we’re being honest. It’s so vanilla, so quinoa, so white linen and cotton candles and meditation ;-0. Body Positivity is chocolate chip ice cream (or whatever your favourite ice cream flavour is!) on the beach, it’s feeling part of a community, it’s glorying in the bravery and beauty of women and people of all sizes being free at last from the tyranny of diet culture and yasss queen! Let’s throw a parade and wear shorts and red lipstick and zumba and life is grand!

I hope this makes a little bit of sense…it’s just a hard feeling to describe, and in some ways a harder place to rest in mentally, than a positive or negative headspace. Even outside body positive culture, on a human level, socially we all seem to share feelings of being either very up or very down, with very little in between.

Mostly on Twitter or Instagram or wherever we see posts proclaim “I’m so happy!” or “I’m so sad!” with very little room for “Actually I’m a bit…meh.” Don’t get me wrong, sometimes my mood shifts dramatically from day to day; sometimes my hormones are a real live rollercoaster. But seeking a neutral headspace is something I have learned, and am still learning, can be a respite from negative thoughts when “thinking positive” feels out of reach. 

I really don’t believe in forced positivity generally, it is hugely overemphasized in society. I have mentioned before how often I felt that unspoken pressure to “stay positive” during cancer treatment, and how isolated that made me feel at times.

So anyway, yeah…last week I had a dip. It was a real, hard core, for the first time in a long time loathing a part of my body moment. There are various things that may have caused it, but it didn’t change the fact that I felt like I had fallen fairly deeply into the sunken place* of negative body thoughts.

The former instinct I would have had pre bopo would have been to pile more negative thoughts on top for good measure, until I was ashamed enough to start some dumb diet. If that is a cycle you have engaged in for a long time, the mere act of not feeding the negative thoughts/soul suckers let’s call them (;-)), is in itself an achievement. To stop and regroup and think “Ok so this sucks…what now?” and sit in that, and try to nudge it into “I don’t hate my body, I know this rationally. I have a good and worthy body and nothing is wrong with it other than my own unhelpful thoughts.”

Until hopefully, eventually, after a mini pity party you don’t let go on for too long, you are walking around, feeding yourself, trying not to begrudge yourself food, exercising as much as you feel able (because of my confidence dip I skipped a gym day last week, I did not have the mental energy it took to face the gym on one day in particular), and just…existing, in as neutral and non-self-critical a headspace as you can manage.

Just treat yourself with as much kindness as you can muster, not asking yourself to feel or look or be any other way than where you are at.

Like I said, it doesn’t sound incredibly inspiring or “You Go Girl!”, etc., but for myself and I imagine many others who have a history of negative body image taking over at low points, it is a life vest back to the place of good thoughts and feelings, that will hopefully keep you afloat until you eventually drift back into smoother waters.

It does make it easier to achieve this mind set if you practice self-care and do whatever you can to make things less stressful on yourself. You are allowed to be a bit blah and feel your feelings and watch a bad rom com or three if that’s what makes you feel better.

Allowing ourselves to just be is something I feel like we aren’t really taught or encouraged in western society. Not that I am some super zen Buddha, but the emphasis always seems to be on what we are doing, where we are going, what have we bought, etc. There is very little chill outside of yoga classes in the modern age (I’m in my 40s now, so I can say things like “the modern age” ;-o).

So yes... I’m feeling better this week, not on top of the world or anything, but I feel like I have anchored myself, and I feel…ok. Sometimes that is more than enough. I have had people ask me about the body neutrality thing before, and to be honest I am not an expert, all I can say is that for me, this week it helped. 

Here are some links that maybe give a more clear cut idea/at least a different perspective of what it’s about. A lot of body neutral advice articles tend towards the "Body Positivity is overrated/unattainable for most" zone, which I don't personally agree with. I feel like Body Positivity has broadened its scope and conversation to include Body Neutrality, something it maybe did not do as well in the early days. 

For me, they can co-exist, Body Positivity and its community are invaluable to my own experience. But I know for some people it might often feel like a bridge too far, so I get why they frame it this way, too. I guess the best thing to do is make up your mind for yourself!







*Is it ok to reference Get Out in this context? I hope so?!

6 comments

  1. Acceptance Steff! The starting point of happiness, peace and love. Our bodies are just...bodies. Instruments. Remove judgment, and the neutral thingee just...is. All body issues dissolve into body neutrality, and all problems vanish with body judgment, and we are at peace. Spoken from a former body obsessed body builder who is happy with his simple meat suit now LOL.

    Ryan

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    1. Hi Ryan yes acceptance is a good goal, not always easily achieved for people with a history of eating disorders or in marginalized bodies, why I believe in and write about my body positive journey here. :-)

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  2. I'm sorry you were feeling low :(
    I always tell my husband he is allowed to be cranky (as long as its not all of the time ;) ) and it seems just me acknowledging his crankiness, and saying its ok, seems to put him in a slightly better mood.

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    1. Allowing other people to feel low/not force cheer on them if they are not up to it, is such a mature/mentally strong thing to do! You rock!

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  3. This makes perfect sense to me! I'm not hugely positive in any other area of my life (although I do put on a bubbly 'front' in my interactions with others), so why should I be beating myself up over not feeling like running and skipping about my body?

    Although red lipstick is kinda my neutral ;) But yes. Great post my love.

    Lis / last year's girl x

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