I stumbled upon body neutrality last year and found the idea intriguing and refreshing. Considering I was never completely sold on body positivity. It’s not that I find the body positive movement inherently wrong or anything. But, for me, it was toxic. Living with an invisible illness that causes physical, mental, and emotional distress consistently can make you feel anything but body positive. Hence why body neutrality was the breath of fresh air that I so desperately needed.
What Body Neutrality Means to Me
If body positivity is the loud in your face approach to self-love and body acceptance. Then body neutrality is its quiet and often overlooked kid sister. Yet, thankfully there’s more and more conversation surrounding this body image shift. At its core, body neutrality focuses on creating a neutral middle-ground for those struggling to love their bodies and be positive about them. So, suppose you’re recovering from an eating disorder, managing chronic illness, or navigating body dysmorphia. In that case, this mindset shift can be quite healing. You’re not shamed or forced to love your negativity away. Instead, you learn to diffuse negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions by shifting your focus away from your appearance entirely. It’s within this safe space of neutrality that the path towards healing and healthy body image begins.
Triggered By Body Positivity
My chronic pain was so debilitating that I often daydreamed about death as an option for relief. In two prior posts I share how My Chronic Pain Demolished My Mental Health and What Does Endometriosis Pain Feel Like? which details my struggles with endometriosis. Additionally, chronic endo-pain made it a challenge for me to accept my body positively. I freaking hated my body and what I was going through. My health was crumbling, and I was a wreck, emotionally, mentally, and physically. The images and sentiments I saw in the body-positive community didn’t reflect where I was in a broken body. It was all about loving the imperfections and accepting your body as good But, how could my body be useful when it felt like I was dying every single day? It felt like everyone glazed over the real, raw, truthful, and ugly stuff. No one wanted to talk about what to do or how to feel when living in your body was painful. And, you were seriously questioning if your body was good and useful at all. I didn’t see or find people that reflected the struggles and pain of chronic illness.
At its conception, the body-positive movement focused on highlighting marginalized bodies and people such as myself that don’t fit society’s standard of beauty. But, somewhere along the way, the body-positive movement became tainted. Instead of being the voice of the misrepresented and unheard, it became a clever marketing spin and trending topic for every fitspo and lifestyle creator. And, while the increased attention was slightly successful at shifting the narrative regarding beauty standards and their lack of inclusion. It still missed the mark in most “inclusive” marketing campaigns and social media representation. At least to me, it became evident that the most beautiful, attractive, and socially acceptable tokens of body positivity received praise and glorification. Yet, those with chronic illness and disabilities that failed to “look” approachable, and attractive got squeezed out of the conversation.
Finding Balance with Body Neutrality
Because for me, positivity wasn’t a reality at the peak of my endo journey. And, I wasn’t going to be positive or like my body when I was in pain. Transitioning towards a neutral mindset decreased my perpetual fixation on my body and why it didn’t function like “normal.” Letting go of body positivity and embracing body neutrality benefited my health holistically. I learned to cope with my endometriosis and allow my feelings towards my body to become fluid. Which meant detaching my illness from my body and seeing it as “other,” not my body itself. This is what built the foundation of transformation and healing for my relationship with my body and ultimately myself.
I was able to make space for the negative and started analyzing those feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. What could I learn from them, and what could they teach me about myself, my body, my health, and my disease? I researched and learned more about women’s health and endometriosis. In turn, I discovered my voice and found the power to speak up for myself and educate others about this disease and women’s health in general. I stopped idolizing the health and bodies of others and started focusing on my body, my health, and my journey. This intuitive and introspective shift allowed me to make peace with my body for the first time.
Making Peace with An Imperfect Body
The revolutionary mindset shift that I underwent began to impact my lifestyle and wellness choices. Instead of self-deprecation, I started accepting my limitations and respecting them. I began to understand that pushing against endometriosis wasn’t the answer I had to co-exist with it. Learning how to make nutritional adjustments that honored my health and helped decrease pain. It didn’t take it away, but it did lessen the severity. Accepting that I couldn’t work out and move my body in the same capacity as I had before led me to become more intuitive about my fitness. I set realistic and achievable goals and focus on gentle, practical fitness that suits my body.
Furthermore, learning how to become more self-aware increased my body literacy. Charting my fertility and paying attention to what my body communicates to me about my reproductive health has taught me so much. I watch what I consume physically, mentally, and emotionally. And, I understand how to recognize triggers that impact my health and well-being. I embrace my individuality and stop obsessing about measuring up to society. Spending time discovering my skills, abilities, and talents led me to remember my passion for writing and creating. This became a healthy hobby and distraction for the pain I was going through and led me to create a blog and fall in love with content creation. Finally, I let go of the toxic belief that healthy bodies have to look and appear a certain way. Health goes well beyond what a person looks like and involves so many different factors.
Furthermore, dictating, whether a person is healthy or not by their appearance, is ignorant. Health manifests in so many different varieties, aesthetics, shapes, sizes, and colors. Making one aesthetic the “ideal” aesthetic isn’t realistic or sustainable, especially considering that human bodies are ever-evolving. They continuously change due to age, stress, hormones, and various other factors.
Body Neutrality Opened the Door For Positivity
At the beginning of my journey, I wasn’t able to find the positive about my body or accept that my health had deteriorated the way it had. I was angry, grieving, hurt, and pain-ridden. I couldn’t find the beauty in the broken body reflected at me. Developing a neutral attitude led me to love and accept my body in a way I never thought was possible. I guess that body neutrality validated my feelings and guided me towards a realistically positive and healthy relationship with my body.
Glamour UK Body Neutrality: What it is and why I’m campaigning for it written by Alice Du ParcQ on February 17, 2020
The Female Lead: Body Positivity versus Body Neutrality written by Christine Wincentaylo June 19, 2020
Good article but it does not negate the problem of chronic pain and of the great need for us to find medication to relieve it
Proper access to medication is a highly nuanced topic with many layers especially considering racial bias, gender bias, socioeconomic status, insurance, and gaslighting I could go on. As a person whose pain was minimized and not believed, I struggled for YEARS and wasn’t provided medication as an option because of money, lack of insurance, and racial bias. So trust me, I get the complexities of medicine in use of treating chronic pain, but I also believe that there isn’t enough discussion had about the mental and emotional impact of chronic pain and how these issues also need to be treated in conjunction with medication.