CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness and eating disorders which could be distressing to some readers.
What is body neutrality?
Body neutrality is simply taking a neutral perspective on your body image. It's the mindset that your body doesn't have to be a certain size or look any which way because you focus on your body as a whole and what it does for you. The movement encourages people to view their body as neutral as it's a more realistic goal and takes emphasis off your outward appearance and forced self love. Body neutrality motivates you to accept yourself the way that you are and move on as it's not something to be bogged down by because there is much more to us than just how we look. It's the reutterance that your self worth is not equal to what your body looks like.
"In short, body neutrality says, “You may not always love your body, but you can still live happily and well.”" - Crystal Raypole, writer
Why practise body neutrality over body positivity?
The body positivity movement has become rampant over recent years, and whilst it was a beneficial movement for increased representation of body sizes and shapes, it also quickly became a commercialised gimmick where companies leached off people's insecurities as unfortunately we live in a society with impossibly high beauty standards. This is exacerbated by how much celebrities and models are idolised based off of their looks, rather than who they are as people.
Body positivity was started largely for BIPOC, fat, and LGBTQIA+ communities to live in a society without discrimination, and it can still be very useful for these people. However, groups that didn't need this movement involved themselves and tainted its true purpose. The idea soon turned into forced self love that could drive somebody to punish themselves if they weren't expressing love towards their body and left room for comparison to others, rather than authentic body positivity.
" Therefore, the problem arises when the airbrushed body becomes associated with an inclusive movement that is supposed to celebrate diversity." - Lauren Pinder-Ambrose
This is where body neutrality comes in. Rather than imposing self love, it focuses on taking a neutral stance on your body. It relieves the pressure of criticising yourself and instead replaces that with peaceful opinions of the body. Body neutrality takes focus away from outward appearance and encourages you to realise that you are more than just your body - no matter which group of society you fall into (or don't fall into!).
For some people, body positivity may have become too ambitious and unattainable, but body neutrality is a realistic goal for an everyday person. It helps us to notice that even on 'bad' body image days our bodies are still deserving of basic needs such as food, water, sleep, and respect, regardless of what your body looks like or what your perception of it might be! The hope is that this prevents negative mindsets, such as eating disorders, to develop, as it places value on your body being the house that you live in and it's not about what the outside looks like, but how you feel. In this sense, the movement is even more inclusive than body positivity as it means that no matter your size, if you want to move and exercise, and it feels good to you and your body, then that's okay, but if not, that's fine too because you're not focused on looks, but the inside.
How to practise body neutrality.
Unfortunately, similar to body positivity, it doesn't happen overnight. You have to work on feeling neutral towards your body, as negative thoughts are bound to happen and it depends on your current feelings towards your body. But something simple like not standing in front of a mirror and criticising what you see can be a good start. If you find yourself in front of the mirror, looking at your body, instead of criticising, maybe notice what your body does for you. For example: your heart is pumping blood around your body, and your lungs are breathing for you, and that means you're alive - so thank them for it!
Practising body neutrality can also look like wearing clothes that make you feel good and comfortable. 'Flattering' is a word you should consider forgetting because we're not placing value on how we look, but how we feel. Some people wear clothes that are sizes too small, like a punishment, to remind themselves they want to be smaller. By wearing clothes that fit your body, it can make you feel more comfortable and accepting because commercial sizes are merely numbers and don't define your worth. In terms of style, see clothes as decorations, like how we might decorate our houses for the holidays. If baggy is your preference in decoration, wear that. If dressed up is your preference, wear that. This will make you more accepting and take more of a neutral, or even more authentic, positive perspective.
You can also practise body neutrality by just listening to what your body is telling you. It might be telling you it's tired and wants to rest, or you're hungry. So don't limit your food intake just because you already had a slice of cake with lunch!
If you're more of a spiritual person and like mantras, you can use these to help you on your journey to body neutrality. For example:
I am worth so much more than my physical appearance
My body looks after me and I am grateful for everything it does for me
If it brings me joy, I shall move my body as it allows
My looks do not determine my worth or lovability
With practise, you will find that you are body neutral and able to view your body as the vehicle that you live in, and not the defining factor of your worth. You may even find that through viewing your body from a neutral perspective and treating it with respect, you might develop authentic body positivity.