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Experiences

It’s Time to Embrace Body-Neutrality Over Body-Positivity

The body-positivity movement has become huge in the last decade or so. Eating disorders have become less stigmatized, modeling is becoming more inclusive, and people are beginning to expose influencers for fake, edited photos. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still enormous progress to be made in all these areas, but we have made great strides. 

Around puberty I, like so many other girls, began obsessing over my body. I wanted to be thin, have no stretch marks or cellulite, and be the “ideal” version of a woman, whatever society had decided that was for the time being. This type of thinking led to a host of toxic behaviors. I obsessed over cardio, thinking it would make me burn the most calories. I only worked out because of how it would make me look, not how it would make me feel. I tracked calories and tried to eat very little. My appearance became such an important part of my life that I began to lose other things. When someone does a lot of cardio and doesn’t eat enough to make up for the calories burned, they often become tired, irritable, and lose weight. I would have a constant headache and a quick temper, leading to less enjoyment in my day to day life. 

However, spending years trying to “love my body” was also such a struggle. I spent so much time trying to convince myself that I was perfect just how I was and that I didn’t need to make any changes. But naturally my body changed over time, and sometimes I would find myself liking it a bit more when I was a little thinner or a little more toned. Once I got in that mindset, it was a very slippery slope. I would use the guise of “I’m doing more cardio for my heart health!” or “I’m eating less because I’m just genuinely not hungry!” Sometimes this was true, but it was mostly a lie I told myself to feel better about wanting to change my body.

One day I read a quote that said, “Your body is the least interesting thing about you.” It’s a pretty simple quote, but one that hit deep for me. Our society has made so many people think that the way they look is a crucial part of their identity, when in reality it means so very little. I don’t think a single person has ever been on their deathbed and thought to themselves, “I wish I didn’t eat that extra piece of cake” or “I wish I had abs” or “I wish I weighed 15 lbs less when I was 18.” Our true character is defined by who we surround ourselves with, the values that we hold, the morals that we live by, and our experiences. Now I’m not saying to only eat junk food, never leave the couch, and never do cardio, but letting your ideal image be your motivation is a tricky road to walk. 

Think about your pinky nail. You’ve probably never thought about how much you hate it or what you need to do to love it. It just is what it is. That indifference is the basis for body-neutrality. It has taken me many years to embrace body-neutrality, and each day is a challenge when society constantly tells me to think about how I look. One change I made that had huge results was the simple act of not looking in the mirror very often. I used to spend so much time analyzing how my body looked in a certain outfit or if I could see changes after a workout. Devoting that precious time to my body image, validated the belief I had that it was important. When I am feeling self-conscious, I often think to myself, “when have I ever looked at my friends in an outfit and thought that they looked fat, or disproportionate, or any other negative trait about their body.” If you’re like me, the answer is most likely: never. We don’t choose our friends based on their appearance, we choose them based on how they treat us, how they make us feel, or valuable experiences we’ve shared. So then why do so many of us think that everyone else is going to judge us? 

I used to spend so much time desperately trying to look different and then being angry with myself for not just loving my body as it was. It was a nasty and unnecessary cycle. Once I stopped putting so much energy into my body image, I suddenly realized how little it really mattered.

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Gracie Bell

C of C '24

I am a sophomore at College of Charleston majoring in psychology and sociology. I grew up in Ridgefield, CT, but have traveled to over 15 countries (I even lived in the Netherlands for a year and a half!). I enjoy writing poetry, running, doing yoga, and reading.
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