Body Neutrality: A Realistic Approach to Self-Acceptance

by Ariana Valencia

(via Instagram)

If you’ve logged in to any major social media platform within the last couple of years, you’re familiar with the term “body positivity”. The movement has gained a lot of traction among young women especially, because it encourages people to love their bodies despite what the media may portray as the “ideal body type”. A term you’re probably less familiar with is “body neutrality”, but it’s beginning to gain popularity among those who believe body positivity feels like too much of a stretch. Body neutrality focuses more on the extraordinary things your body can do, rather than what it looks like. The body neutral movement also highlights why some may find body positivity inauthentic and ineffective.

For example, body positivity has come under fire for being highly commercialized in a way that almost encourages body scrutiny because it puts our bodies at the forefront of our minds when developing positive self-worth. Furthermore, a lot of the body positivity movement centers around positive self-talk that affirms, “I am worthy, I am beautiful, I am lovable, I am enough.” Or something to that effect. While positive self-talk is all good and well, if you’re someone who has a negative body image or has a low self-esteem, it can actually do more harm than good.

Canadian researcher, Dr. Joanne Wood, conducted a study with the University of Waterloo to determine the effectiveness of positive affirmations on general mood and body image. The study found that “repeating positive self-statements may benefit certain people, such as individuals with high self-esteem but backfires for the very people who need them most.” In fact, researchers suggest positive affirmations are simply “incongruent with the mindset of those with low self-esteem” thus leading to more negative feelings about oneself. For those that may think body positivity feels forced, Dr. Wood suggests “going neutral” before “going positive”, as a means of creating neutral paths of thought that provide a sturdy foundation for positive thinking to begin.

Inclusive fitness expert, Lauren Leavel, says “body neutrality offers a space to observe without judgement and forced positivity.” If you’re on a journey to sustainable self-acceptance and body positivity just doesn’t feel authentic to you, consider incorporating these body neutral practices into your self-care routine.

Focus on Your Strengths

We are often our own worst critic but by appreciating the things our bodies can do rather than their appearance, it opens up new perspectives for us to truly gain body acceptance. For example, if you don’t like the cellulite on your thighs start by appreciating how strong your legs are. Acknowledge how your legs allow you to go on bike rides or simply walk through the mall while you shop. If you don’t like the stretch marks on your tummy, start by appreciating that your body created life and is ever-changing. New York based Psychotherapist, Alison Stone, suggests a good approach to body neutrality is to explore your body and find out what makes you feel good about existing in the body that you have. Even if all you like about yourself is your good eyesight, creating any neutral paths of thought facilitates sustainable positive self-image.

Change the Conversation with Yourself

It’s important that we change our negative self-talk in order to develop a more positive self-image. On the days when we just can’t seem to find anything about ourselves to appreciate, reciting body neutral mantras to replace criticism of our own bodies can help break that cycle of negativity. Research shows, simply saying things like, “I am more than my appearance. The way I look is just one of the many facets that make me, me”, encourages mindfulness thus reducing stress, anxiety and emotional reactivity. A great resource to gain a better understanding of the benefits of living body neutral, is the book “Beyond Beautiful” by Anuschka Rees. Follow the book’s Instagram @beyondbeautifulbook for daily exercises and mantras to help you on the road to self-acceptance in a realistic and attainable way.

Filter Your World

Beyond changing how you talk to yourself, what’s really important is how you interact with others around you when it comes to conversations about weight, exercise, diet or any topics that may trigger insecurity. Friends or relatives may compliment you for losing weight and comment how great you look. But this can be dangerous, because then we equate acceptance and praise with thinness and weight loss. So, when someone says something like, “Wow, have you lost weight? You look amazing! What’s your secret?” Try to pivot the conversation, to something that doesn’t have to do with your appearance. Suggest you decided to focus on your health and eat foods that make your body feel good and not what would make your body smaller. Weight loss is not the goal, but often the inevitable result of proper self-care. So, if you want to achieve true body acceptance, stay positive and remember, go neutral.

Writer. Lifestyle. Travel. Op-Eds. And everything in between.

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