Body neutrality: the way to body acceptance or a lack of self-love?
Body positivity has become a well-known phrase over the past few years; particularly within the eating disorder recovery community. In a nutshell, body positivity promotes unconditional self-love, and aims to soothe any racial, societal, or personal struggles with your body. As someone who has struggled with eating and body image, I’ve found that body positivity has really aided my recovery, and has taught me how to treat myself with kindness, rather than aiding negative thoughts or harshly comparing my figure to the bodies of others.
Yesterday I stumbled upon an article about body neutrality. It is a concept I had not previously come across, and I quickly discovered that there are mixed feelings about it. Some claim that body neutrality excels past body positivity, whilst others worry that it will deter people from loving their bodies. Rather than encouraging you to praise and love every inch of your figure as body positivity does, body neutrality is much more – well – neutral. Instead of writing down things you love about your figure, or trying to defeat negative feelings, body neutrality involves accepting your body as it is.
In short, body neutrality is a great option for someone struggling with body image. Rather than immediately trying to move on from the hatred and struggling associated with your reflection, simply accepting that your body is like this is a good place to start. For instance it could be especially useful for those in therapy for body image related issues (during eating disorder or body dysmorphia treatment). Therapy can be mentally exhausting and there can be a range of issues and impacts to explore, so body acceptance – rather than love – could be a short-term coping mechanism whilst working on other aspects of the patient’s recovery.
However, even this explanation of neutrality is problematic, since body positivity does not simply go straight from self-loathing to self-love. Self-love is a long and confusing process within body positivity, and it only works if you continue to feed positive messages and reminders to yourself, essentially rebuilding a peaceful harmony with your body and mind. To slate this slow process would be wrong, since no mental illness or body image issue can or should be treated with quick fixes. Body neutrality is looking more and more like a quick fix the more I read about it.
Autumn Whitefield-Madrano was fairly negative about body positivity in a recent The Cut article: “you’re supposed to have this bulletproof self-esteem […] It’s not something we can really live up to. Body love keeps the focus on the body. The times I’m happiest are when I’m not thinking about my body at all.” The idea of ignoring your body is what troubles me about body neutrality. Yes, not every happy moment should revolve around how you look, but the world can be a much happier place when you feel more secure or comfortable in your own skin. Please don’t misunderstand me: I know all too well how horrible it is to be unable to see past the rolls on your stomach, and seeing past your hatred is impossible at first. But with time and understanding about your negative thoughts or mental illness, this reluctance work on your attitude towards your body can change. It would be almost impossible to get rid of those negative attitudes towards your body by ignoring or accepting them.
In this quote, Whitfield-Mando also depicts body positivity as a force above the average person which does not promote realistic goals. I argue that the core concepts of body positivity have been lost or misunderstood. Body positivity is for the average person. If you don’t believe me, have a look at Megan Jayne Crabbes: a recovered anorexic who has learnt to love not only her own body unconditionally, but she also influences thousands of followers around the world with a number of backgrounds, mental illness experiences, and body shapes.
Body positivity is not encouraging you to go straight from a miserable ED sufferer to a confident, body-loving person. The bloggers in this community are honest about the stumbles and barriers along the way to self-acceptance and love, and make an effort to include a wide range of body types, disabilities, and illnesses in their promotion of wellbeing. If there’s one thing I respect about this community, it’s the unashamed honesty of the struggling and coping involved in body issues. Above all, body positivity promotes a healthy way of viewing your body, and offers soothing refuge through its blogging, whether you’ve had a successful or terrible day coping with your reflection.
I don’t see anything wrong with body neutrality – as long as it is treated as a short-term coping mechanism. For me, body neutrality verges on the ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude: a perfectly worthy road to confidence, as long as you are not faking it for the rest of your life. There is nothing worse than despising your own body, and it’s a horrible hurdle to get over which can come back again and again with weight fluctuation or body comparisons. It can certainly be tempting to simply accept your body unemotionally to get through day to day life. However, for me, body neutrality should be treated as a stepping stone from body image issues to body positivity, rather than a coping strategy existing on its own.
(Images courtesy of: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/10-thoughts-to-have-when-you-look-in-the-mirror
Some extra info/ accounts about body positivity: