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What Body Neutrality Feels Like

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

I was recently sent an article about how the body positivity movement has become toxic, lacking the inclusivity and acceptance that inspired the movement's existence. I read it with a mixture of disinterest and annoyance. How bored does the internet have to be to turn a good thing into something controversial?

Another article goes on to say, "'All bodies should be celebrated,' the movement says. But the unasked question is, by whom? Finally marketing a plus-size body as sexy and hot is progress, but it inadvertently still ties a person’s value to their physical appearance. Big and small and everything in between is beautiful—but wouldn’t it be better if we all could all agree that our beauty doesn’t have to define our worth?"

Sure, that would be nice, wouldn't it? If our very visual and sex-obsessed world suddenly wasn't? But the world we're living in is superficial sometimes, especially when it comes to appearances, and it isn't without reason. We are scientifically more attracted to symmetrical faces and bodies that seem evolutionarily capable of reproduction. Of course, what makes a person attractive or loveable or "worthy" is a lot more nuanced than appearance. No one is arguing that. Behavior, intelligence, social class, motivation, emotional intelligence, and much more factor into attractiveness. But I was annoyed that my attention was brought back to bodies at all. It seems like we're talking in circles about what or who should be celebrated by what or who and it's all a long conversation leading nowhere. In trying to not focus on bodies and appearances, we are ironically drawn back to focusing on them.

What has helped me throughout my recovery, and what might help you, is body neutrality, which is the idea that you can (and should) exist without having to think too much about your body one way or another, positive or negative. Not thinking about your body actually makes a lot more sense than obsessing about it negatively or obsessing about it positively. And for me, making the jump from having a negative body image to a very positive one felt too big to handle at once. Neutrality seemed easier, less complicated, and healthier than engaging in the mental gymnastics required to always be positive. Here's what I did, and what might help you.

  1. Get busy. Fill your time with work or hobbies that are unrelated to how your body looks. Luckily, most things are unrelated to how your body looks unless you're a model or something. But doing things that interest you will fill help the brain space that might otherwise be focused on body rumination.

  2. Do things that make your body stronger. It doesn't matter how you do this: parasailing, kickboxing, walking dogs, bicep curls. But getting better at a physical pursuit can help you uncover a new appreciation for what your body can do and you'll care less about what it looks like.

  3. Help others. Getting outside of yourself is a good antidote for a lot of things. For me, helping others makes me feel loving and grateful. It makes less sense to feel bad about my body when I'm in a space of gratitude.

  4. Redirect conversations away from your body or food. This can be awkward but it can help you maintain your peace. You can say, "I'd rather not talk about that," or you could just bring up the weather or politics and the conversation is sure to turn.

  5. Eat what you want, to satiety. Giving yourself this freedom and honoring your body's hunger will make food less of an issue and you won't spend valuable brain space thinking about it.

  6. Practice respecting not only your body, but the bodies of others as well. Try to see beyond appearances and value people for their many other qualities.

Much love, always!

P.S. Read more about body neutrality vs. body positivity here, watch Bethany Meyers talk about body neutrality here, or read about how to redirect conversation away from bodies here.


Sarah Rose

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