Body Positivity or Neutrality?

I write on here a lot about body positivity. I follow a lot of people on Instagram who do, too, and I’ve noticed there’s a lot of discussion around what terms are the “best” to use. I’ve heard the discussion on some of my favorite podcasts, too, and have seen some people shift away from using the term body “positive.” While some people find their niche is posting about self-love and loving your body, others feel that may not always be feasible for people. Others argue that body positivity focuses too much on, well, bodies, which reinforces that bodies and how they look are important.

I don’t really feel like I fall in either camp 100% of the time, and I don’t think we have to. As much as I would like to live in a world where bodies are just neutral, we live in a world that praises some bodies and looks down on others. I think that many of the accounts celebrating all bodies and body love can be extremely helpful.

It can be validating to see someone post their stretch marks and think, “I have those too! Maybe I don’t need to ‘fix’ them after all.” Many of these accounts highlight people in larger bodies, which helps normalize body diversity. I think that’s so important in our world where people in larger bodies are made to feel ashamed, and those bodies are way underrepresented in the media. It also helps widen our view of what counts as beautiful, which can help with body image across the board.

However, I do understand the argument that focusing on celebrating all bodies still keeps the attention on bodies. In reality, our bodies are just our outer “Earth suit” as Julie calls it, so should we shift our focus elsewhere? That’s where the body neutrality argument lies.

Body neutrality is pretty self explanatory-just feeling neutral about your body and focusing on other things. This is how I feel most of the time. I acknowledge that I am more than my body and it does not determine my worth. I try to focus on how I feel and react to my body in a factual way rather than placing value on how it looks. For example- “These pants are tight, I should buy a pair that fits better” rather than “These pants are tight I hate how my body looks I need to change it” or “These pants are tight, I love how I have rolls over my waistband.”

I’ll be honest, I’ve never thought that last statement! Maybe I will never get there. I think that’s okay. I’m more likely to just go get some pants that actually fit and make me feel good, then go on with my life. That’s a big accomplishment for me; not too long ago, I would have started doing things to try to change my body rather than work through the thoughts.

Sometimes I do feel positive about my body. Sometimes I don’t. When that happens, I sit with the discomfort. I don’t want to diet or do workouts that don’t mesh with my lifestyle and values. So sometimes I just have to think about why I’m having a negative thought. Maybe I don’t come up with an answer, and maybe I feel uncomfortable for a while. That’s part of the journey. I also know that I don’t have to love my body all the time to treat it with kindness.

Celebrating body diversity is certainly a good thing. Being inclusive of all people and all sizes is a wonderful thing. But it’s not realistic to expect to love your body all the time. That can be hard for people when they express disappointment with their body and hear “no no no, just love your body!” It’s really not that easy, especially in our culture. Or they may feel frustrated, like they’re “failing” at body positivity, if they have any negative thoughts.

I never want to say that body love is unattainable for anyone, but I know it can feel impossible. Body neutrality can seem like a really big goal if you’re consumed with hating your body. Maybe you’ll end up in body neutrality and hang out there most of the time, and simply enjoy living your life without judging your body too much either way. You may want to work towards body love and find that it’s accessible to you. Maybe you want to work towards simply not hating your body all of the time. I don’t know that the terminology really matters. Work towards what you feel like working towards. Either way, I think it’s better than being trapped in body hate.

Maybe body acceptance would be a better term for me to use. I don’t think that means you just wake up one day and say, “Alright, body, I accept you! Let’s do this!” It’s still a journey. I like the term because it acknowledges that there is active work going on. It’s about moving away from fighting your body and learning to work with it.

I feel like we are all on the same team here. We don’t want to be consumed by thoughts about our body, no matter what those are. We’ve got more important things to do! Maybe one perspective is helpful to some people, but not another. Or maybe one perspective is helpful at one part of your journey, but not another. We are all so different and we are all at different parts of our body peace journey, so I think it’s understandable that we identify with different aspects of the non-diet culture. Embrace what helps you on your journey, and leave the rest.

Tell me what you think- Does it matter? Do you identify more strongly with one phrase or another? Does body positivity sound nice, or unattainable and frustrating?

Psst–Most of the pictures in this post come from Instagram via Christy Harrison and Haley Goodrich, two awesome non-diet dietitians. Give them a follow if you’re looking for some positive people to help you along your journey!

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