Our bodies are designed to adapt as we do. Therefore, it makes sense that they would feel and appear different as we age. But frequently, instead of encouraging us to embrace nature, we are told not to "let ourselves go." At all costs, we should strive to appear younger, both literally and figuratively.
According to psychotherapist Amanda Marks, owner and creator of Resilient Counseling, "We see diet, beauty, and health cultures telling us we need to look younger and that our value declines [as we age]. "Those industries invest trillions of dollars every year to raise our self-consciousness,"
Isn't attempting to have a good perception of one's physique and appearance a way to combat that negativity? A useful third route becomes available at this point: body neutrality.
What Is Body Neutrality?
In my work as a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist, I find clients are frustrated and pressured when the goal for our healing work is body love. Body neutrality is a concept that often feels more realistic and attainable.
“Body neutrality is a way of seeing the body not as an object that is judged against subjective standards but as your body that has carried you through this life and is inherently good and on your side,” says Tracy Brown, a somatic nutrition therapist and dietitian. “It is normal to grieve changes, but acceptance is good for our mental and emotional health, as well as the physical health of an ageing body.” Sounds way more peaceful than body hatred or feeling the pressure of loving your body all the time, right?
Your Five Ways to Practice Body Neutrality
1. Focus on your body’s functions.
Recognize whatever your body permits you to do in life in order to go a step closer to neutrality. You can move away from feeling like your body is an object to be judged and toward feeling like it's an instrument for leading a meaningful life by routinely noting body functions and allowing that dominate a focus on aesthetics. According to her, having a sense of purpose in life also comes from focusing less on what your body can't accomplish and more on how it creates space for you to take care of others.
Finding a blank sheet of paper and beginning to list your body's components from head to toe while naming at least one function for each is an easy place to start. It may be something as basic as your heart beating so you can survive, or it might be something more unusual like your arms working so you can move dirt to plant tomatoes or give your partner or a friend a hug.
2. Remember—you are in a relationship with your body.
It's simple to overlook this. And even if we acknowledge it, we can either choose to act differently in the relationship to foster a more serene experience of aging or we can constantly fight or struggle with a body that is meant to change as we do.
Spend some time reflecting about the connection (or relationships) in your life that have been the most enduring and nutritious, as well as the unwavering principles that have enabled them to be so. It might be unwavering acceptance, respect for one another, or steadfast loyalty. Then, think about how to promote the same principles regarding your body.
3. Look into the mirror with kindness.
Marks and Brown advise practicing self-kindness and gentleness when gazing into the mirror at your own reflection. Self-kindness in self-talk, one of the three components of self-compassion, is one of Marks's favorite skills to share with clients, according to psychologist and researcher Kristin Neff. When you catch yourself being harsh or judgmental of yourself, Marks advises, consider if you would say the same thing to a close friend or your child before reframing the concept in a more accepting and loving manner. (If you're having trouble reframing something, look over the affirmations below, choose one that speaks to you, and jot it down on a sticky note that you can put to your mirror.)
According to Brown, "being able to look at oneself with'soft eyes' produces a sense of love and admiration." We experience a physiological sense of threat when we look at ourselves critically in the mirror.
Threatening situations might start or intensify mental narratives of dread, fear, rage, and shame. She observes and cultivates disconnected behaviors such as disregard for one's body or anxiety over rejection from others. It matters how we talk to ourselves, says Brown. "Hello, sweetie," rather than "Yuck, look at those wrinkles," is more affectionate.
4. Practice body-scan meditations.
Bodily scans include gently bringing awareness to various body areas while maintaining a pleasant and nonjudgmental attitude. Some people find it useful to repeat an affirmation repeatedly while I am leading body scans with my clients, such as "My body does not want me to suffer," or something similar.
5. Use your body as a resource.
Marks advises using our bodies as resources rather than something to contend with. When we catch ourselves lamenting the aging process, Brown advises that we use our senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell to "take in the positive and help us reset." For assistance, focus on your feet on the floor and the connection between your back and your seat, for instance. As Brown points out, "Notice that the chair you are sitting in has got your back and doesn't need you to perform to exist and be seen. It's another perspective that allows you to see yourself as more than just a physical entity.
Body neutrality ultimately entails moving away from hating and fighting our bodies and toward acceptance and respect—without the added strain of adoring them. Marks advises that if we work on and strive for body neutrality, "then we accept changes [to the body] and realize they don't diminish our inherent worth and value."