If You Stopped Fretting About Your Figure, How Would You Use That Time?
Learn why some sisters are letting go of angst about aging, extra weight or changing shape and reaching toward their dreams and desires.
Each year parts of my body look and feel different from the way they did the year before. I try to stand in the mirror and lavish myself with body positive affirmations, but sometimes the words fall flat.
For many people, it’s simply not realistic to expect to feel good about your body all the time. And during those times when your body positivity levels are running low, those self-love affirmations won’t feel authentic. This can be especially true as we age.
The first time I heard the term “body neutrality,” I was confused. I didn’t understand how a human being could possibly be neutral about their body, and I certainly didn’t think it was possible for me — a Black woman — to embrace body neutrality.
As a Black woman, I practice and pursue self-love as if my life depends on it. June Jordan said it best: “I am a feminist, and what that means to me is much the same as the meaning of the fact that I am Black; it means that I must undertake to love myself and to respect myself as though my very life depends upon self-love and self-respect.”
But body neutrality says that I don’t have to love my body to love myself. While body positivity is about celebrating all bodies regardless of shape, size, color, gender or ability, body neutrality maintains that you don’t have to hate or love your body. You can simply respect it and accept it as is. Whereas body positivity declares you’re beautiful no matter what, with body neutrality it doesn’t matter whether you’re beautiful or not. Your worth is not tied to your appearance, and neither is your happiness.
The History of Body Neutrality
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the term “body neutrality” began to surface online around 2015. It gained momentum when Anne Poirier, a certified intuitive eating counselor, eating disorder specialist and author of the book The Body Joyful, used it to encourage a shift in how people think about their bodies.
Body neutrality got more mainstream attention in 2019 when actress Jameela Jamil said in an interview with Glamour magazine that she never thinks about her body.
“And because of that, I swear to God, I never would have been able to have this success that I have now,” she said in the interview. “It opened up all this time because I spent hours a day thinking about my food.”
Encouraging others to consider body neutrality, she went on to say: “Imagine just not thinking about your body. You’re not hating it. You’re not loving it. You’re just a floating head. I’m a floating head wandering through the world.”
Here’s an example of how body neutrality works: When you look at your stomach, you will focus on its ability to digest food and thus give you the energy you need for the day, instead of worrying about belly bulge.
Body Neutrality and Aging
The older I get, the more interested I become in body neutrality.
With body neutrality, you come to observe your body with no judgment. You respect and accept your body as a vessel that carries you through life. You see your body as being on your side. Yet you can boldly declare that your body is not the most important thing.
Body neutrality encourages you to focus on what your body can do instead of what it looks like. But this approach can also be problematic. If you’re a person living with a physical disability or experiencing limited mobility due to health conditions or age, your body may not function the way you wish it did.
In an article for The Good Trade, Danielle Chessman writes, “We must expand our definition to include what our bodies house as well: our uniquely individual thoughts, curiosities, values and traits. Our organs and internal systems. Our bodies, regardless of capability, are proof of our existence — and that is always worthy.”
How to Practice Body Neutrality
For some people, body neutrality can be a stepping stone on the journey to body positivity. For others, body neutrality can be the end goal. If you’re interested in working toward body neutrality, here are a few ways to get started:
Cut off negative thoughts. Reciting body love affirmations may feel insincere, but that doesn’t mean you should let negative thoughts about your body run wild. When you start spiraling, worrying about your arms being flabby, stop and redirect that thought. You could, for example, focus on the fact that your arms allow you to hug your grandkids.
Check your body talk. When you’re chatting with a girlfriend and the conversation begins to drift to how you, she or someone else needs to lose weight, shift the discussion to something more positive that has nothing to do with physical appearance. Instead of lamenting how you don’t have what society considers a “bikini body,” talk about how much fun you had during your latest trip to the beach.
Be mindful of how you talk to yourself too. When you find yourself saying disparaging things about your body, ask yourself if you would say these things to your daughter, sister or best friend. Probably not! And just as these relationships are important to you, your relationship with your body is valuable as well.
Listen to your body. When you’re hungry, feed your body the nourishing foods it needs. When you exercise, do so to boost your mood, not to lose weight, and opt for movement you actually enjoy. Body neutrality urges you to respect and take care of your body and to detach that care from any judgment of your body’s appearance.
Get comfy. Stop trying to wrestle yourself into clothes that are too small. That can trigger body shame. Wear clothes that fit your body well and leave you feeling the most comfortable.
Try meditation. A body scan meditation can help you relax as well as bring awareness to different parts of your body without an attitude of judgment.
Body Neutrality Versus Body Love
I will probably never come to a point in my life when I don’t think about my body. Honestly, I’m not sure that I want to. I don’t want to deny myself the joy I feel on those days when I’m head over heels in love with my body.
I realized this after reading an Instagram post by body confidence coach and wellness content creator Tiffany Ima. In the caption she explains that she grew up being told not only that she wasn’t beautiful but also that she couldn’t be beautiful because of her dark skin and Nigerian features.
“After all the healing work I did to see myself as beautiful, I have no desire to feel neutral about myself,” she writes. “I believe that I am absolutely beautiful and that women who look like me are beautiful.”
Nevertheless, Ima says she does use body neutrality as a stepping stone on bad days and she recognizes that the path to body image healing doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. “The best path is the one that works for you,” Ima writes.
Body neutrality is helping me accept my body in all its different stages and ages. I believe body love will always be my goal, but body neutrality might be what it takes to get me there.