Body positivity has been a term that’s soared through the world for the last few years, and it’s hard not to ignore the several Instagram posts and self-love articles plastered across the internet. It, of course, seems common sense to make the claim that it is helpful for people to love their bodies regardless of how they look, but some leading experts are now starting to say that body positivity can be harmful and in some cases could be quite toxic.
The claims start on the premise that body positivity is in effect difficult to practise. Many people who are struggling with body dysmorphia, eating disorders, or relapse have commented on how hard it is to rewire their brains to follow this philosophy. This is where body neutrality starts to be figured into the equation as it is the middle ground between self-love and self-hate.
Body neutrality is a concept that says that you should focus on what your body can do rather than what it looks like. It aims to focus on accepting yourself by recognizing what you are capable of and helps to fight against unsustainable beauty standards. The two terms (positivity and neutrality) may seem the same in some respects but are very different as body positivity is the concept of loving your body for how it looks and feeling happy with your body, whereas body neutrality is the concept of focusing on the things it can do rather than the way it looks per se. This could include thinking, “My body helped me cook this meal.” or “My body helped me dance and move around.”
The whole concept relies on the belief that your body deserves nourishment and appreciation regardless of physical features and aspects. It’s based on the fact that loving your body shouldn’t be about the high standards of beauty set by society or be in any way appearance orientated. Loving your body and hating it can often be very similar, as they are usually both very focused on how you look, when in fact how you look is really of no significance at all when it comes to body neutrality and the benefits that come with the approach. Many reasons can change how you think of your body such as an injury, a health condition, or even giving birth. These are all things that can change your physical appearance and cause you to dislike parts of your body.
Body neutrality is the idea that you might like or dislike your appearance, but you can still move on with your life regardless of that, as you have several beautiful non-physical characteristics that shape you as a person. The hope is that is you subscribe to the neutrality approach then your obsession with appearance may decline. One way body neutrality could be practised is by exercising and moving your body: not to make up for something you ate or to correct your appearance. It can also affect your eating habits, you might choose to eat something healthy to nourish your body but not restrict yourself and eat intuitively by eating what you feel like eating and listening to your body.
The main process behind body neutrality is that it’s a way of accepting yourself in all ways, physically and mentally. You can’t force yourself to love your body how it is and thinking that you ‘should’ love yourself can cause more self-harm and mental distress. Body neutrality offers a way to find a middle ground and appreciate that your body can do so many things for you regardless of how it appears on the outside. A person with a disability or health condition may not always love a body that is restricted and someone with an injury may not always love a body that is limited to certain movements but it is still possible to accept yourself and nourish your body and appreciate what it can do.
This doesn’t mean you must love your body completely all the time, but you can still live and do all the things you love regardless of that. So the next time you find yourself hating your body for certain parts of it, try remembering all the things it does for you and knowing that not liking your body doesn’t mean that it has to be fixed, as there’s more to you than physical appearance.
Note: This might not apply to someone with an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, in recovery or someone who has relapsed.
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