Offering a safe space for those who find self-love inaccessible, body neutrality encourages body acceptance without the pressure
In recent years there’s been an uprising in the self-love movement, with articles, quotes, and celebs alike encouraging us all to love our bodies. This is, of course, a wonderful thing. While a large proportion of mainstream media outlets continue to tell us that any body that isn’t slim, white and able is ‘ugly’, it’s encouraging to see a resistance growing.
Initially, this took the form of body positivity. Originating from the fat acceptance movement in the 60s, body positivity aimed to give a voice to those in marginalised bodies – especially fat, black, queer, and disabled bodies.
As the movement gained steam, however, it became a twisted version of itself.
The term got confused with body confidence and self-love. An influx of smaller-bodied, white women began using the term, and the community it was designed to support felt cast out, once again.
Body positivity, self-love, and body confidence have become entangled, and many feel pressure to embrace and celebrate their bodies. For some, it’s simply a step too far.
For those with chronic health conditions, disordered eating, body dysmorphia or disabilities, the idea of loving their body is... difficult. Like a mirage in the distance, it’s far away and difficult to make out.
Becky Wright, fellow Happiful writer, tells me she’s had struggles with her body image for as long as she can remember.
“I don’t think self-love is always attainable, especially for those of us who have a history of poor body image. The shame we’re told we shouldn’t feel about the way our bodies look can turn into added pressure when we’re not able to constantly love our bodies.
“I’ve struggled with disordered eating and exercise addiction in the past. It’s only in the past couple of years, since becoming more in tune with my mental wellbeing, that I’ve noticed the connection between how I’m feeling and how I treat my body.”
Becky, and many others, are instead turning towards the concept of body neutrality, something that feels tangible, and entirely possible.
What is body neutrality?
The term body neutrality is believed to have been coined in 2010 by a treatment programme at the Women’s Centre for Binge and Emotional Eating in Vermont, USA. The idea behind body neutrality is to help us steer away from self-hate without the pressure of having to love our body. Instead, it’s about working towards a place where we respect our bodies, but don’t give too much energy to positive or negative thoughts about it.
“Body neutrality feels like a white flag amidst the warzone of thoughts going on in my mind; I don’t have to hate or love my body, I just have to accept it as my body,” says Becky.
This mentality takes off some of the pressure. For some, body neutrality is a stop-off point on the journey to self-love. For others, however, it’s the final destination.
How can we embrace body neutrality?
Tune into what you’re proud and thankful for, and self-love may come as a by-product of doing so
The relationship we have with our body can be messy and complicated. Embracing body neutrality can simplify things by taking a step back and seeing our bodies for what they are – our home. To do this, we need to remove some pressure and focus on other personal attributes.
“In my opinion, part of the problem with the body confidence movement is that it’s trying to embrace a way of thinking that defies what the majority of society believes – that you should start loving the body you’ve not loved your entire life,” Becky explains.
“I would say, try to shift your focus away from trying to love your body and instead aim to make your body image a smaller part of your overall focus. Tune into what you’re proud and thankful for, and self-love may come as a by-product of doing so.”
We long for the day when all body types are celebrated and appreciated, but we know there’s a long way to go. If you find the body positivity movement helpful and inspiring, we urge you to follow along. Listen, learn and interact with those in the community.
If you find it puts too much pressure on you – please don’t give up. We may not all be able to reach a point where we can say “I love my body”, but we can try to find a middle ground. We can leave the destructive thoughts of self-hate behind and set up camp in a place of neutrality. A place where we respect and honour our bodies. A place that feels more like home.