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What Is Body Neutrality and How Can I Start Practicing It?

What If Body Positivity Isn't The Answer?

When you are first exploring what it would look like to not dislike your body, as media at large directs you to do, the body positivity movement can be met with rolled eyes and thoughts of “are you kidding me” and “that’s wayyy too hard”. And yeah, when starting from a place of hatred, disgust or dismissal of your body, it can seem an impossible task to ever reach a place of love, appreciation, and acceptance. Enter body neutrality. 

 

While self love regarding our bodies is important, it’s not always attainable in our society where we are constantly flooded with messages about an “ideal body” that are rooted in white, colonial, and fatphobic systems. Here are some important reasons why body-positivity and body-love aren’t going to work for everyone: 

  1. The mainstream body positivity movement isn’t actually inclusive of ALL bodies (The original creators of the movement - fat and POC women - have been noticeably overshadowed in the movement’s online presence by thin, small-fat, white women, making the space feel much less inclusive.)
  2. Expecting folx with trauma, marginalized identities, chronic illness, chronic pain, etc., to attain body-love can be invalidating of their experience within their body
  3. It is impossible to like, love, or feel positive about your body 100% of the time 

 

Getting stuck in the all-or-nothing mindset of needing to love your body in order not to hate your body can be a set-up for disappointment and “failure”. Body neutrality grants you the grace to live in that middle space (of not needing to love or hate your body), which can feel much more realistic and approachable. 



What is Body Neutrality?

Body neutrality can be a helpful (and more realistic) alternative to body positivity because instead of focusing on loving how your body looks every day, it is more about appreciating your body as a vessel that can carry you through life and experiences. Body neutrality, according to psychotherapist Alison Stone, is about simply “being without passing judgment or harboring strong emotions about how you look”. When you choose to turn down the volume on the peanut gallery in your mind running constant commentary about your appearance and how it is “good” or “bad”, you open up so much mental space for being present, mindful, and, well - you. 

Obviously this is easier said than done. Body neutrality, though, can offer an accessible starting point. 



Overcoming Judgment with Body Neutrality

A first step to overcoming judgment about your body is to access neutrality. It is much easier to believe positive or affirming thoughts about yourself when you are already feeling good or are in a positive headspace - imagine going up 2 steps at a time instead of 1. It is much harder to believe these thoughts when we don’t feel good about ourselves to begin with. Like trying to go up 4 steps at a time instead of 1 or 2 - even if you really want to, your legs probably can’t reach that far. 

 

Body neutrality isn’t about forcing yourself up 4 steps at a time… because that won’t work and could result in injury. It is about giving yourself an opportunity to learn how to take 2 steps at a time, when you can. But, it can also be about taking a side-step, because you may not always (or ever) feel confident enough to get over that first step and reach the second one. A side-step involves trying a neutral affirmation or neutral thought that is compassionate and based in reality. 

 

Making a body neutral affirmation that is based in reality involves including evidence that you know is true or that is action based. For example, instead of “I accept my body”, try: “I am working towards accepting my body - I am working with a therapist and dietitian, and I recognize that it takes courage and patience to go against diet culture and years of conditioning.” This affirmation is an achievable side step because it includes an action and evidence of what you are already doing. This feels real.

 

 

10 Tips for Practicing Body Neutrality 

  • Make a daily body appreciation practice

Make time every day, maybe at the beginning or end, to create a body neutrality ritual. Try some of the methods listed here, make up your own, or pick a new one each day. Whatever small practice you have the daily capacity for, choose to carve out time to create neutral neural (branching) pathways. 

  • Ask what your body can do for you

What can your body do? Your body is not only your face, your weight, your shape, or your appearance. It’s the place you live and the vehicle through which you experience life. Can your legs carry you on a nature walk, or simply your commute to work? Can your arms pick up your child or hug a loved one? Can your mind create solutions, solve puzzles, or dream up your future? Can your body fat contribute to healthy hormone balance? Can your hair create really cool hairstyles? Can your hands draw a picture or write a poem? 

  • Re-frame negative body talk with compassionate or neutral statements

Affirmations in body neutrality are typically either statements of compassion or statements of function. For example, a compassionate statement might look like, “I deserve to give myself grace that I extend to others.” A statement of function appreciates what your body can do for you, like, “I might not like the way my arms look, but they allow me to hug my partner, which is valuable.”

  • Try mirror gazing

Mirror gazing is the practice of intentionally looking at your body in the mirror for a set amount of time, whether it be one minute or ten minutes. During this time, you are purposefully looking over your body, resisting the urge to look away, and confronting the discomfort or negative body talk that may arise. It is simply a time for you to be acquainted with your body, say to yourself “this is my body”, and greet it without judgment. 

  • Opt out of social body talk

Bring your body neutrality out into the world with you by declining to comment on your own or anyone else’s body. Even if body comments are meant with the most positive intentions, it’s impossible to know anyone’s experience in their body. This means that you (or someone else) can call attention to something that feels painful or inappropriate. Furthermore, your body really isn’t anyone else’s business, and honestly, there are so many more interesting things to talk about than physical appearance. 

  • Clean up your social media

Most of us spend at least some time each day scrolling, and what we see when we scroll actually has a big impact on how we feel, and the lens through which we see the world. Unfollow accounts that promote diet culture or make you question your own body. Add in some anti-diet, weight neutral, or fat positive accounts to your feed, so that you have some exposure to messages that don’t make you feel like sh*t. 

  • Make time for a “drop in” moment (if this feels like a safe practice for you to try)

A “drop in” moment is a time to drop into your body and get connected to your current experience. This can look like closing your eyes, taking deep breaths, and mentally directing your focus to each part of your body, bit by bit. How does your head feel, is there any pressure there? How does your chest feel? What are you experiencing in your stomach? This is a time to get in tune with your body and discover any need, want, or emotion you may need to fulfill.

  • Choose clothing that is physically comfortable and not distracting

Your attention can be drawn to your physical appearance with the constant sensation of clothing tugging, pinching, or feeling uncomfortable. Your mind picks up on that, and can then make a negative association with your experience in your body. Choosing clothing that fits, and is at the very least, somewhat comfortable on your body can be helpful in dimming the chatter in your brain because it is no longer a reminder of your appearance. This can free up mental space to focus on what really matters to you. 

  • Changing affirmations from an adjective to a verb

Affirmations, even statements of compassion or function, can feel hard to believe when they are based on adjectives rather than verbs. This is because verb statements are actions that you can carry out to fulfill the affirmation, while adjectives can feel ambiguous. For example, “I am brave” can feel vague if you are not already in a positive headspace. On the other hand, “I am building bravery by going against the status quo of diet culture each day” includes an action that you can choose to fulfill. This affirmation is based on reality and evidence, and it will be much more effective.  

  • Explore what feels good in your body

Invite curiosity to your experience and explore what makes you feel good to live

in your body. Maybe you feel good when you engage in joyful movement, such as dancing, running, climbing, or playing with your pet. Maybe you get joy from moments of feeling grounded, like planting your feet firmly on the floor, or mindfully breathing in fresh air. It may also involve any current self-care or body-kindness rituals that you do without thinking, like brushing your teeth, or putting on lotion. 

  • Choose Compassion 

In much of Western culture, it has become normative to tear apart the parts of our body that we don’t love, and this leaves us lacking in our sense of self-worth. Body neutrality comes from untangling your worth from your physical appearance, and responding to shame with compassion. Sonya Renee Taylor writes, “The act of giving yourself some grace is the practice of loving the you that does not like your body.” First, can you acknowledge the part of yourself that is still holding onto judgment for your body - and greet it with curiosity, compassion, and care? Then, can you also connect with a part of yourself that knows diet culture is oppressive and harmful - and that you are wanting and ready for something different? 


Some Final Thoughts

By engaging in any of these body neutrality practices, you are actively trying something different. Maybe that “something different” can be your side step, which can then lead to taking the first, and second step as you are ready.

 

 

Get Additional Support!

If you are ready to explore body neutrality and food freedom, sign up for a free 15-minute discovery call with one of our dietitians today!

 

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