Body Positivity, Body Neutrality, and the Road to Self-Acceptance

Body Positivity, Body Neutrality, and the Road to Self-Acceptance

Every year, just before the weather begins to warm, the inevitable occurs: weight loss ads and commercials begin popping up on television and social media. A sea of reminders that society expects bodies to look a certain way can make it difficult to figure out how to accept your body, no matter how much work you’ve done to try to make body positivity a part of your mental lexicon.

A newer concept—body neutrality—works to help you begin accepting your body as it is, rather than focusing on its perceived positive or negative attributes.

Here, we’ll take a look at what body acceptance and body neutrality mean, and how these concepts can make it easier to fully embrace all that life has to offer (no matter what lies society is spewing about how your body is supposed to look). 

Body Positivity Vs. Body Neutrality: What’s The Difference?

Body positivity operates on the idea that it’s important to love and celebrate your body. While there’s nothing wrong with loving yourself, many people find that it’s a big leap to go from negative to positive body thoughts. 

Body neutrality provides another option. 

Your body isn’t just something to look at. From processing emotions to keeping you alive, your body moves you throughout your day. Much like a vehicle gets you from one place to another, your body is a vessel for your mind, emotions, and spirit. While a body can certainly be beautiful, what your body does is far more valuable than what it looks like

Body neutrality encourages viewing the body from a removed perspective. Rather than looking for aspects of the body to celebrate, the body neutrality perspective suggests simply accepting the body as it is, without attaching judgment or value. Body positivity and body neutrality can go hand in hand, but it’s also possible to embrace body neutrality on its own. 

Problems With The Body Positivity Movement

Celebrating and loving your body is wonderful, but many body image experts have taken pause with the body positivity movement. Body positivity focuses on the body’s outward appearance as a measure of self-worth and encourages followers of the movement to gain self-esteem through the way their body looks. 

Critics of the body positivity movement have also noted that generally, women of color, people with larger-than-average bodies, and people who have disabilities have been excluded. Body positivity hangs its hat on the tenet of celebrating all bodies, and it’s disheartening that some people feel excluded. 

Accepting your body as it is—and freeing oneself from any type of emotional attachment to the way your body looks—can be a huge step toward self-acceptance.

Tips To Accept Your Body—As It Is Today

If you’re having a hard time figuring out how to accept your body or how to move toward at least a neutral relationship with your body, know this: it’s not your fault. Years of societal pressures shouting that bodies are meant to look a certain way takes a toll on the self-esteem of anyone who doesn’t fit into that cookie-cutter description of what a body is (supposedly) supposed to be. 

This week, take some time to implement one (or more) of these tips as you work toward body neutrality:

Tip #1: Take a moment each day to show your body some gratitude. 

Your body is constantly working hard to keep you moving, help you show love to others, digest your food, and allow you to get your work done. Take a minute—literally, 60 seconds—each day to thank your body for all that it’s doing to keep your life moving in the right direction. If you notice that your thoughts are headed in a negative direction (for example, you’re glad your thighs carried you through a tough run… but you wish they were smaller), simply pause and redirect your thoughts. It can be tough to remember to stick with any new mindfulness practice, and setting an alarm on your phone at the beginning or end of the day to practice body gratitude can help you establish this healthy new habit.

Tip #2: Engage in self-care that improves your health, not just your appearance. 

Self-care isn’t just about manicures and pedicures—it’s also about taking care of your body in ways that have nothing to do with your appearance. Making a doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off, actually seeing the dentist every six months, treating yourself to a massage, or taking a meditation class can all work wonders for your body, despite doing nothing to change your physical appearance. Pay attention to how your body feels before and after self-care, and work to establish routines that make you feel healthy.

Tip #3: Unfollow social media accounts that trap you in the comparison game and make you feel bad about your body. 

Both body positivity and fitness inspiration accounts can negatively affect body image. If you find that you’re following social media accounts that interfere with your body acceptance, simply click the unfollow button. If you find that a friend or family member’s social media account is causing you to struggle with your body image, you may simply want to mute their account so you no longer see their content (and so you don’t have to deal with the awkwardness that may come with unfollowing their account). 

Tip #4: Notice and change the way you talk about bodies. 

It’s hard to change the way we think about bodies, and it’s easy for comments on bodies to pop up in conversation. If you’re working toward body neutrality, try to steer away from comments about people’s bodies at all (even positive comments). Instead, comment on a person’s strengths, their personality, or ways they’ve been helpful to others. If someone in your group begins to talk about their body or someone else’s body, gently steer the conversation to a new topic. This can take some practice and will become more natural over time.

Tip #5: Give yourself patience and grace.

It’s not easy to change the way we think about our bodies, especially when we’ve been bombarded with media messaging for the majority of our lives telling us that our bodies aren’t good enough. If you feel that body neutrality is the right state of mind for you, give yourself time to adjust to this new way of thinking. Know that it takes practice, and awareness that you’d like to change the way you view your body is the first step toward change.