Whether we like it or not, we only get one body to work with on this journey called life. Sure, changes are inevitable, but charging these ups and downs with strong emotional responses can be overwhelming. It’s common to become fixated on certain body characteristics and fuel them with emotion – whether it be pride over athletic prowess or disdain at one’s limitations.
Body neutrality provides a refreshing approach to recognizing one’s body and everything it can and cannot do. It swaps emotional attachment for healthy, objective reckoning. It allows one to say, “It is what it is,” and move on. This detachment can strengthen mental health by fostering acceptance throughout the journey.
Body Neutrality vs. Body Positivity
Before we go any further, let’s draw a quick line between body neutrality and body positivity, as the latter has received a lot of focus in recent years.
Body positivity involves self-talk rooted in affirmations, often focused on outward appearance. Phrases like, “My curves are beautiful” or “I love my curly hair.” At first, this approach may seem like a wonderful, uplifting way to love oneself and instill confidence, but it can also be off-putting – especially for those who don’t fit into cultural ideals or are living with physical limitations.
The potential problem with body positivity is that it still attaches a strong emotional response to one’s physicality, albeit a positive response. But what if those characteristics change? What if you really don’t love your curly hair, or what if you do really love it but your hair goes straight following pregnancy or menopause? In many situations, habitual positivity can end up feeling insincere.
Acceptance of What the Body Is – and Isn’t!
Body neutrality, on the other hand, acknowledges the body in its exact form and function. Instead of spinning observations to be positive or desirable, it simply recognizes – with honesty – what the body can or cannot do, what the body is or isn’t. For example, rather than gritting your teeth and muttering, “I love my curly hair” a hundred times over, you could say, “My curly hair is unique. It requires more time to style.” No lies, no judgment – just honest observation that feels true to you. It is really just a form of mindfulness- awareness and acceptance without judgement or opinion
Body neutrality also shifts the focus from outward appearance to overall functioning. There are many things that the body can do that often go unappreciated. Adopt a neutral response to the body’s limitations and acknowledge what the body can do. Rather than saying, “My tired legs can’t walk as far as they used to,” focus on what your legs can do: “My legs can walk for thirty minutes.”
Another key to body neutrality is removing the judgment and disapproval that gets stirred up with body limitations. Instead of saying, “I’m too fat to sit in the booth,” a more neutral outlook would be, “My body is more comfortable when sitting in a chair.”
Body Neutrality Can Boost Mental Wellbeing
These minor shifts in self-talk can have major consequences, most notably: acceptance. Honest observation without judgment reduces guilt and the pressure to be something that you are not. Healthy detachment from the body also brings new perspective. After all, there is much that our bodies can do – and do very well! For those that embrace body neutrality, honesty is the best policy.