The Step Before Self-Love

In theory, I’ve always loved the Body Positivity Movement. I--like most girls my age without access to a private chef or a dedicated round-the-clock personal trainer--have, at times, found myself at odds with the number on the scale. With the rise of the Body Positivity Movement, we’ve seen plus-sized bodies move out of the shadows and into public spaces, even being featured in mainstream advertising. This is mostly at the hands of brave people using their platform (many on social media) to advocate for a new kind of radical self-love.


Radical self-love is a relatively new term used in Body Positive spaces. If you follow the movement (or even just have any form of social media), you’ve probably heard the term thrown around. It’s the idea that loving yourself is at odds with what has been ingrained in most young people’s minds from an early age. In a world that exploits our deepest insecurities to sell us products--anything from makeup to clothing--ignoring the messaging we are expected to ingest is an act of revolution.


As much as I love this idea that we shouldn’t let society dictate how we feel about our appearance, radical self-love won’t come overnight. With the bombardment of messages coming from social media, TV, and magazines telling us one minute that we should hate ourselves and the next that loving ourselves is a form of freedom, it’s hard to ground ourselves in a stable middle place.


Autumn Whitefield-Madrano says it perfectly: “My problem with body love, besides the fact that it’s a high standard, is it’s asking women to regulate their emotions, not just their bodies.” While self-hatred certainly isn’t the answer, the Body Positivity Movement can feel like it’s unattainable for imperfect people. While we may all strive for total self-love, it’s a messy journey filled with bad days and self-doubt.


For most people (like myself), the answer lies somewhere in between these two extremes of self-loathing and self-love. That’s when I stumbled upon a perfect starting place: body neutrality. While body positivity comes with a flurry of expectations that can seem impossible to fulfill, body neutrality’s goal is simply to reach self-acceptance.


Rather than loving yourself and your flaws, body neutrality focuses on acknowledging emotions (both negative and positive) and evaluating them without judgment. Using a body neutral mindset allows the brain to understand and unpack your emotions (strong, weak, discontent, scattered) without using language that centers around physical characteristics. While the Body Positivity Movement can be heavily centered around feeling great in your skin all the time, body neutrality feels more like a process than an end game.


Stephanie Yeboah a fashion blogger and activist explains, “[body positivity] has become a buzzword, it has alienated the very people who created it. Now, in order to be body positive, you have to be acceptably fat – size 16 and under, or white or very pretty. It’s not a movement that I feel represents me anymore.” A movement that began with the most marginalized voices has now moved to expand all bodies. This is, of course, a noble mission, but with such a decentralized audience, the words begin to lose their power altogether. In a large sea of people searching for self-acceptance, those already at the fringes were pushed further from the spotlight when the movement became more about positivity than it did about representing a previously invisible community.


Yeboah suggests that “fat acceptance” is perhaps a more appropriate tone. A piece of the Body Neutrality Movement, fat acceptance caters to a marginalized portion of the population and pushes for a more realistic goal. It forces society to confront a word that has been forever marked as ugly. With little room for coded language, terms like “body neutrality” and “fat acceptance” drive more directly at the point activists are trying to reach.


Whichever movement you choose, both strive for the same goal. While the Body Positivity Movement does have its problems, it’s full of a supportive and, well, positive community of people trying to improve themselves and their self image. The Body Neutrality Movement, on the other hand, wants people to move past their physical features and consider the whole person. For some, positivity is that push they need to feel at peace. For those not quite ready to undergo a personal revolution, body neutrality is a great first step.