Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Side by side body pics. Nude pics. Messages including "love yourself!" and "#bodypositivity." Body image campaigns still only representing some bodies. Campaigns claiming "realness" of bodies. This is among what I found when I Googled body positivity.
The body positivity movement (starting in the early 2000s and sistered by the fat acceptance movement of the 1960s), encourages people to challenge media standards of beauty and practice self- and body-love. This was most memorably marked by several media campaigns by corporations encouraging women to reject traditional media standards of beauty and practice self-love.
At first glance, body positivity sounds great. Who doesn't want to love their body? Doesn't body love sound great? Let's stick it to society and the media and rebel by loving our bodies! But in a society where children as young as 5 years old suffer from eating disorders, and 46% of 9-11 year-olds are dieting, how can we just decide to love our bodies?
Plot twist: Body positivity is not necessarily what we should be striving towards. Here's why.
Loving your body is hard, and not realistic. For most people, loving our bodies is too hard. It's not enough to just say, "I love my body because I want to!" after years of scrutinizing and comparing your body. It's like telling someone with depression to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get over it. It just doesn't work, and on some days, it's simply too much to ask.
It shifts the responsibility to the individual. We've all grown up in a society that has taught us to equate appearance to self-worth. It puts the responsibility on the individual to shift their self-perception, in a world where any body that doesn't fit into a white, cisgender, thin ideal is oppressed and shamed.
It's valid to fluctuate in how we feel about our bodies. Our bodies have fluctuating states. Our weight and shape fluctuates daily based on our fluid intake and the state of our bowels. It's okay that we don't love our bodies 100% all the time everyday. That's not realistic. It fluctuates.
Body positivity sets us up to be too high and too low. We put too much stock into evaluating our body as good or bad. A body that we love can also be a body we hate. We are up too high and down too low. We toggle between body-love and body criticism. Why can't there just be a middle way?
Don't get me wrong. Body positivity is an excellent idea, and if it works for you AWESOME - keep doing you! But here's another solution.
Ever heard of body neutrality?
Body neutrality is all about accepting your body for what it is. It's the delicious middle sweet spot where we can appreciate our bodies, without getting too caught up in what our bodies say about us as people. They're just bodies. They don't have a secret, underlying meaning about who we are. My body is something that helps me get from point A to point B, hug my family and friends, relocate objects, and more - it does not signify my worth as a person. It is a vessel.
Body positivity still requires so much energy. I would rather go about my day without actually thinking about my body. My body is a mechanism by which I do the things that allow me to live. It is not something to be scrutinized, thought of, picked at, compared, and torn apart. It is also not something to be praised and overvalued as part of who I am.
Body neutrality is peace at its core. It is deciding to let go of evaluating bodies as good or bad. It's deciding not to spend mental energy on things that don't bring us fulfillment. It's making peace that our body weight and shape is largely out of our control, and thus it is not worth it to expend lots of energy on frantic efforts to change it.
It is body respect. It's focusing on the functionality of our bodies, all the things our bodies do. My body allows me to run, jump, swing, hug, and high five. My body keeps my heart pumping and my lungs breathing. It holds all my internal organs and protects them so that I can live. That is nothing short of a miracle.
It is body trust. Our bodies are truly incredible. They have intricate networks of systems that keep us alive, and they work, y'all! Our bodies have been regulating themselves for thousands of years. We run into trouble when we try to meddle with it. Your body knows what it needs. It knows when it's hungry and when it's full. It knows when you're thirsty and when you need to use the bathroom. We don't need to micromanage every bit of our body - our body knows what it's doing. Let it do it.
One of the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to listen to our bodies. Imagine if you saw a parent who would not hold a baby when it cried, or feed a baby when it was hungry. We would think that parent was neglectful! So why do we do this to ourselves? We are essentially neglecting things that our body needs when we aren't listening. So when your body is hungry, feed it. If you are thirsty, drink. When you need to use the bathroom, go. Don't apply self-imposed rules that hinder your body from doing the job it was made to do.
Now don't get me wrong. Body neutrality is also not so easy that we can just flip a switch and decide not to think about our bodies. It takes a lot of dedicated practice. Here are some tips on how to work on body neutrality.
- Work on describing bodies in objective, descriptive terms
- Avoid judgmental or evaluative terms
- For example, say instead of saying "My hands are so wrinkly", you might say "The
skin on my hands is mostly smooth with a few wrinkles." Or someone might talk
about a "stomach pudge," when really they retain water at certain points in the
day causing bloating; all normal, natural experiences, and not objective to define
as a "pudge."
- Bodies are not good or bad, nor pretty or ugly (even though we've all been conditioned to believe otherwise)
- Buy clothes that fit your body right now (your "right now" body!)
- Get rid of clothes you've been hanging on to because they "may fit someday" or signify a goal or ideal weight/shape
- Buy clothes that fit comfortably and that you feel like yourself in
- Note appreciation for what your body does
- Thank your body for holding you up all day, getting you to work, allowing you to hug your friends and family, and for keeping your heart beating
- Note appreciation for the things your body does that are important to you
- Stop comparisons
- I am convinced that comparisons are the thief of joy. If you need to make
comparisons, make your comparisons in objective and nonjudgmental terms.
I challenge all of you to try one of these things. Just one. Don't get discouraged if it's hard (because it will be hard); nothing worthwhile is ever easy. But it's worth it. Because our bodies do not equate to our self-worth. It's unfair and exhausting to spend lots of time and energy on our bodies. We don't have to love our bodies to respect them. And we do not exist solely to make our bodies shrink. We exist to live.