Body Neutrality: The Healthier Alternative to Body Positivityby Kinga Lewandowska
There is ancient wisdom in our bodies that keeps us alive. It heals our wounds, it knows how to create, bear, and sustain our children, how to recharge our batteries overnight, it warns us against danger, and even helps us make decisions. Our anatomy performs miracles on a daily basis. It’s high time we started treating it like the magnum opus that it is.
So much has been said about body image, body positivity, about loving ourselves for who we are, and embracing our imperfections – all very important conversation points. However, we have yet to properly appreciate our physical form for what it does for us rather than only praising its appearance. We are more than meets the eye. Our body deserves recognition for all the incredibly important roles that it plays in our overall wellbeing. And what do we sometimes do instead? We take it for granted.
What Happened to You
Feeling unsatisfied with our body can be a huge rock to carry on our back. It comes with the potential to disrupt our day-to-day lives in more ways than one. It weakens our confidence, prevents us from going after what we really want (e.g. applying for a dream job or asking our love interest out on a date), and even separates us from our friends and family.
What’s crucial to understand is that in order to annihilate the rock, we need to first analyze its components. In her TEDx talk, Jessi Kneeland, body image coach and speaker, underlines the fact that this kind of unhappiness usually stems not only from psychological traumas such us sexual assault, but also social conditioning, overcritical environment, ridiculous beauty standards, objectification, bullying, or the pressure of expectations. Needless to say, all that is hurtful to our psyche and our bodies.
Being made fun of, judged, feeling inadequate, unsafe, restrained, unfit, or broken takes its toll on our wellbeing. We become different people, we conform. We develop eating disorders or conditions such as body dysmorphia. We’re unable to look at ourselves in the mirror, let alone with love. We feel like failures.
In one of her podcast episodes, Brené Brown talks to Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce D. Perry about trauma and healing. One extremely important issue raised in their conversation is this: when we see a person who, in our view, behaves or looks out of the ordinary, we tend to ask, What’s wrong with them?, when a much better question is, What happened to them?.
The truth is, you might not encounter many people on your path with sufficient knowledge, skills, and levels of empathy to be asked the better question. But it’s imperative that you do. Look back and evaluate what events and occurrences could have contributed to the way you perceive your own body. This awareness is the crucial first step to healing.
Is Body Positivity Toxic Positivity?
The body positivity movement has been gaining advocates and traction for a while now. Challenging the non-inclusive standards of how our bodies should look to be perceived as beautiful was long overdue. The era of Barbie dolls as we know them from childhood is over.
Body positivity is about loving your physique no matter what it looks like, flaws and all. This is a beautiful notion. The movement celebrates all different shapes, sizes, colors, and energies in all their might and glory and brings self-acceptance to the forefront. It’s liberating. Nonetheless, it may also add an additional layer of unnecessary pressure and forced positivity. If we repress our negative emotions, they will erupt one way or another. Embracing our emotional truth is the only path to good mental health.
Furthermore, blindly accepting your body the way it is can make you overlook potential warning signs in your health. In the haze of admiration for our looks we sometimes refuse to listen when our body wants to communicate because we judge our health based on our appearance. It is only when we slowly but surely start to deteriorate that the scales fall from our eyes. Prevention is always better than cure.
Finally, our exterior is merely a fraction of who we are. Our bodies are so much more than their surface. Focusing solely on what’s outside appears to be quite a superficial way of loving yourself.
Your Body Is a Wonderland
Body neutrality is a much wholesome approach to physical and mental health. When we compliment a woman on her intelligence and wit, rather than on simply looking pretty, we show her that we really pay attention to who she is, what she represents, and what she can do. When we acknowledge our bodies like that, we treat them with respect they truly deserve.
Gratitude can only work in truth. Turning a blind eye to aging, pregnancy consequences, disability, or plastic surgery failure will only do a disservice to your wellbeing. Your history is your strength and that’s precisely what will successfully carry you through life, not the beauty standard set by someone else. Our bodies are decorated with stretch marks, wrinkles, grey hair, cellulite, scars, and all kinds of unevenness because they help us live our lives to the fullest.
Think about it for a second. How many processes do you think occur in our anatomy every single moment we’re alive? How many cells work towards keeping us healthy and resilient every single day and night? Is homeostasis not miraculous? Does it take a professional explanation from an expert or can we all agree that the way our bodies are constantly changing, evolving, and adapting to survive is pretty amazing?
Body neutrality is appreciating your legs for allowing you to climb a mountain, acknowledging the power of a womb to create the right conditions for the beginning of a new life, or feeling grateful to your hearing for bringing music into your life. Body neutrality adds to the creation of the ultimate state of happiness.
It’s natural to have mixed feelings sometimes. There are days when it’s easy for us to feel good about ourselves, and there are times when all we can see is our flaws. Body neutrality is the encouragement to feel authentic – no forced positivity, only the healthy truth. We bet you already feel better reading that.
Our relationship with our body is an essential component of our mental health and therefore cannot be taken lightly. Practicing body neutrality will take the pressure off your back so that you can breathe in the magnificence of physical freedom and inner peace. Less judgment, more self-compassion. Less stress and anxiety, more intuition. Sooner or later you will hear your own voice granting you permission to enjoy yourself.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to change and improve. A healthy dose of ambition can take you where you want to be in life. But maybe there’s a better way than pushing yourself too hard at the gym? Maybe that new diet is too restrictive and takes away all your joy? Choose moderation.
There will always be one more thing to improve, and then another, it’s never-ending. Fall into that trap and you’ll always be dissatisfied with yourself. Instead, take off your war paint, lay down your armor, look in the mirror, deeply into your eyes, and reforge self-criticism into appreciation and gratitude.
More Than Meets The Eye
Love and cherish your body, you only have one. Respect it for dealing so well with everything you put it through on a daily basis. Feed it well, let it rest, take it out for regular movement – it will pay you back. Your unique, limited edition anatomy is so much more than its appearance, BMI, or the world’s opinion. Think of how much you can accomplish because your body allows it. Imagine how much you would be unable to do without it. The value of our bodies is priceless.