When it comes to body image, or how you think and feel about your body, it can be easy to think about it in a black and white way: You either feel good or bad about your body. Black and white thinking can feel like a lot of pressure. If you don't love the way you look and feel positively about your body all the time, then you might conclude that you have poor body image and self-esteem.
The truth is, you don't need to feel confident in your body or positive about it all the time. It's normal for our feelings towards our body to change, just like our mood does. Body acceptance exists on a spectrum. There is a middle ground between loving your body and being critical of it, and this is called body neutrality.
Before diving into body neutrality, let's define what body positivity is. Body positivity is about accepting and appreciating your body as it exists right now without the need to fix or change 'flaws' that you might see. Body positivity is rooted in challenging conventional beauty standards and promoting body acceptance. Body positivity can be challenging if you struggle to accept your body and feel like there is no middle ground between loving and disliking your body. Body neutrality can be a healthy goal that puts less focus on how your body looks and helps to switch the focus to how your body functions and its purpose.
Body neutrality is the space between body positivity and body negativity, where you can experience being in your body instead of thinking about what it looks like. Body neutrality can be practiced by anyone who wants to give themselves more space to exist in their body and to move the focus away from observing or judging and towards experiencing and being. This can be especially helpful if you feel that body positivity is too rigid.
Body neutrality puts the focus on respecting and appreciating your body for what it can do for you instead of what it looks like. Below are some examples of practicing body neutrality with different body parts:
Your legs for allowing you to run, jump, and walk
Your skin for being a protective barrier and keeping you healthy
Your arms and hands for letting you hold loved ones or to play your favorite instruments
Your feet for letting you explore the world around you
Your body for experiencing the feel of the grass beneath your feet, the smell of your favorite food, and the feel of the sun on your skin
Body neutrality, at its core, is about living a happy and healthy life despite some of the negative thoughts and feelings that come up for you regarding your body. It is important to recognize that how you feel and think about your body can change over time and through different phases of life, and this is completely normal!
If body neutrality feels right for you, here are some ways you can begin practicing being present in your body and take the time to fully experience your body's amazing range of abilities and qualities!
Exercise and focus on how it makes you feel and appreciate what your body can do for you instead of working out for appearance-based reasons
Practice adopting a more holistic viewpoint by noticing how your body helps you function in your daily tasks and hobbies, and how each body part has a role to keep you safe and healthy
If you notice something about your body or appearance that you feel insecure or uncomfortable about, try to look at it from a place of curiosity and observation instead of judgment
Eat with the intention of nourishing your body instead of manipulating your body shape and/or weight
Wear clothes because you enjoy how it looks and feels, not because of how it'll shape/hide/enhance your body
Have a curious and compassionate attitude when speaking about your body, whether to yourself or others
Body neutrality is not a one-size-fits-all attitude; some people may enjoy the way body positivity nudges them to be more self-accepting and to have more love for their bodies, while others may feel more comfortable having a neutral stance. Whether you're in the body positivity or body neutrality camp, we can all benefit from having a more inclusive, accepting, and kind attitude toward ourselves and others.We can all work on reminding ourselves that our bodies are worthy of our care and deserve to be nourished and appreciated for all that they do for us every day.
About the author
Jessie's Legacy, a program of Family Services of the North Shore provides web-based eating disorders prevention resources to support BC youth, families, educators and professionals. Visit us at www.jessieslegacy.com.
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