The term body neutrality has begun to emerge on social media, in studies and as recommended by therapists. The body neutrality movement is spreading as people grow exasperated and burnt out on toxic positivity. The idea that you have to love everything about yourself each day can be hard to latch onto. Body neutrality shifts the focus to appreciation rather than adoration. “Our bodies are incredible and allow us to do so much, so let’s take the focus off of appearance and instead state the facts—the things that our bodies allow us to do. Let’s learn to appreciate our bodies for all they do,” says psychologist and NYU School of Medicine professor Rachel Goldman, PhD, who specializes in health behavior change.
What is body neutrality?
“Body neutrality is having a respectful and neutral approach towards your body, instead of extreme positivity or negativity,” explains realistic body therapist Zeynep Demirelli. When practicing body neutrality, one focuses on accepting your body “for what it is and what it does,” says Dr. Goldman.
How does body neutrality differ from body positivity?
Body positivity is focused on physical appearance and “liking your body unconditionally at all times,” says Zeynep. “Someone who practices body positivity is expected to look in the mirror every day and absolutely love what they see each time.” On the contrary, when practicing body neutrality, people are encouraged to “accept their body simply because it exists, taking the focus off of appearance,” explains Dr. Goldman. Even in moments when someone doesn’t feel great about themselves, body neutrality suggests accepting the body, appreciating it for its abilities and treating it with respect, says Zeynep.
“It can be quite harmful to present body acceptance the way that body positivity does because it may not necessarily be possible to attain this kind of acceptance. Not much in life is that ‘all or nothing,’ and it’s quite difficult for us to ‘love’ our body all the time,” says Dr. Goldman. “It’s normal, and okay, to not fully love our body all the time. That is where body neutrality comes in. It’s getting away from this idea that we have to love our body. Instead, we can just focus on accepting it for what it is, and what it does for us.”
How can one practice body neutrality?
According to Zeynep, a great time to try practicing body neutrality is on a “bad body image day,” which we’ve all had. “Instead of telling ourselves that we look absolutely stunning and expect to feel better, we can take that opportunity to shift the focus from our body’s appearance to its abilities,” says Zeynep. “We can tell ourselves that it’s alright to not feel good about our body constantly. However, we still have to be respectful towards it. We can remind ourselves that our physical appearance is just a part of us and that it does not define us. We can also be grateful that our body takes care of us, on both good and bad days, no matter how we feel about it. It helps us hug the people we love, laugh when we are having fun and carry us around wherever we want to go.”
Dr. Goldman says she reminds her clients that our thoughts, emotions and behaviors are all linked. This is why it’s important to be mindful of our self-talk. She suggests challenging unhelpful thoughts. “A great exercise to do is to identify a few things that our body is capable of doing, or what it allows us to do,” says Dr. Goldman. Additionally, Dr. Goldman points out that we can try to avoid talking about bodies at all. She also suggests wearing clothes that fit and make us feel good. “I always say ‘dress to impress you.’ You don’t want to wear clothes that are going to make you think about your body even more.” A big tip from Dr. Goldman is to be mindful about who we’re following on social media.
Is body neutrality a healthy outlook? Do you recommend it, and if so, for who?
Dr. Goldman and Zeynep feel that body neutrality is a very healthy outlook, especially when compared to body positivity. “Expecting to adore our bodies constantly is unrealistic. It is only natural to have bad body image days,” says Zeynep. “Everyone can practice body neutrality, no matter their weight, gender, age or ethnicity.”
Why do you think this movement is beginning to trend?
“It’s gaining popularity because I think people are getting tired of all of the fakeness that goes along with being super positive. It’s not easy to just love your body. Not only is it exhausting but it’s also unrealistic to do that all the time,” says Dr. Goldman. She adds that when people are struggling, the last thing they want to hear is “just be positive” or “just love yourself” because it’s easier said than done. “It’s not validating or even accepting people’s feelings. Not everything in life is super positive, so let’s stop pretending that it is,” says Dr. Goldman.
To counter toxic diet culture and slim bodies seen on runways, we were told to love our bodies no matter what. “This has been quite the challenge, especially for people who struggle with their body image or who have eating disorders because, with the body positivity movement, they were expected to go from hating their body to suddenly adoring the way they look,” says Zeynep. She adds that failing to practice body positivity can end up making people feel worse. “People have realized that the movement of body positivity is some kind of toxic positivity and that it is not feasible to constantly love our body. So body neutrality was born and became very popular due to its realistic expectations.”