Most of you have probably heard of the term body positivity—one of social media’s favourite buzzwords. The body positivity movement began as a way to challenge unrealistic feminine beauty standards, and eventually shifted to the well-known message of today: “all bodies are beautiful.” While everyone may have a slightly different perspective of what body positivity means to them, the main idea is loving your body (and whatever “flaws” you perceive) just the way it is.
The body positivity movement is behind the recent uptick of “real” models in the media, brands embracing inclusivity in their sizing, shade ranges, and advertising, as well as the massive amount of content online of people supposedly embracing their insecurities. The movement has also begun important conversations surrounding what inclusivity really means—not only including white cis women of different shapes and sizes, but disabled bodies, people of all racial backgrounds, gender identities, and the 2SLGBTQA+ community.
But the body positivity movement isn’t all positive. Some people feel the movement promotes obesity, while some people, including Lizzo, criticize the movement for being co-opted by women who already fit society’s beauty standards, further marginalizing fat bodies. Others criticize the body positivity movement for being too positive, to the point of being unrealistic and unattainable for many people. These critics compare body positivity to toxic positivity—that being happy with the way your body looks all the time is impossible and trying to keep up this constantly positive perspective can result in feeling worse about yourself.
That’s where body neutrality comes in.
Body neutrality is the concept of respecting your body as the vessel that carries you through life—even if you don’t necessarily love the way it looks. Body neutrality promotes the radical idea that you don’t need to think about the physical appearance of your body at all. Instead, you can focus on thinking about keeping your body healthy and strong so it can continue to support you through your life. You can do this by eating foods that nourish your body, staying active, getting adequate rest, taking care of your skin, and whatever else your body may need to function to the best of its ability. Practicing body neutrality means acknowledging that your value as a human being and your happiness is not tied to the way you look, and that your body is only a small part of the total person.
Many people recovering from eating disorders praise the benefits of the body neutrality approach for their relationship with their body and food. On the other hand, critics of the body neutrality approach say that the movement may be ableist, suggesting that the sentiment that people should be grateful for what their bodies do for them erases disability and chronic illness.
In the end, the relationship with your body is an extremely personal journey, so choose what feels right for you.