Arianna Tucker-Girl Putting Hair In Ponytail

Why I Practice Body Neutrality—and How You Can Too

I was 14 years old when I suddenly became aware that I was fat. I remember sitting in the basement of a friend’s house, exhausted after a long day of biking through town. A boy in the group made a passing comment during a game of truth or dare. Well, to be honest, you’re probably a 6...if you lost some weight, I think you could be an 8, though. The embarrassment struck to the core. What had I done? Why didn’t he find me attractive? I became uncomfortably aware of the stretch of my shorts—the jiggle in my thighs as I biked home. I spent the rest of the summer in jeans. 

The relationship with my body became tumultuous. Underlying mental health issues soon became inseparable from my body. Throughout high school, my anti-depressants quickly led to a sudden influx in weight, which continued until my sophomore year of college. It was throughout this time that the #BodyPositivity movement exploded onto social media, celebrating individuals of all shapes and sizes. I couldn’t help but feel lost—why can’t I just love myself like them? Am I a bad feminist, or ally, or person? 

woman on bridge Katherine Scott

I looked on at these women taking over billboards as heroes, people to aspire to. They took back words like “plus-size” and “fat,” celebrated queer bodies, disabled bodies, and people of color. They challenged the notion that being fat and being beautiful were two very different things, and inspired a new generation of women to love and accept themselves just the way they are. 

This just didn’t happen to me. 

Instead, I found the pressure to love myself to be anxiety-inducing. I felt guilty for not being able to feel my inner Lizzo and become a picture of fat positivity—I just felt shame. I didn't feel anger toward these other women, but disappointment in myself. 

It was in the summer of 2019 that I began to research different ways to improve body image issues when I stumbled across a concept that has changed my life forever: body neutrality

Body neutrality is a movement with origins beginning in the 1960s but recently becoming a response to the body positivity movement. It serves as a middle ground for those who have a long history of hating their bodies, a way to stop degrading inner dialogue. The practice involves disconnecting and reconnecting with your body in a whole new way—sort of like rewiring the way your brain thinks about yourself. 

Your body is seen as just an extension of yourself. It serves as a vehicle, getting you from point A to point B. You don’t have to praise it, but rather accept it without consequence or admiration. Your legs bring you to your home; your arms embrace loved ones; your stomach holds your food. Instead of focusing on the way your body looks, you focus on how your body feels

I’ve received a lot of backlash from friends and family after explaining this practice to them. It begins with a look of sadness, then some comments: well, don’t you want to love yourself? How are you supposed to feel confident if you don’t even acknowledge your body?

Woman at beach Katherine Scott

The thing is, body neutrality is acknowledging your body—just in a different way. When loving your body seems impossible, simply not hating it can be the best option for your mental health. Since I’ve begun practicing body neutrality, the pressure to diet or post #LoveMyself selfies has gently vanished. I see myself as a collection of desires and actions, and I talk to myself with kindness. Instead of punishing myself after eating two pieces of pizza, I ask myself, how does my body feel right now? Do I have the energy to do my chores? What foods give me better energy?

Body neutrality has also been criticized as a promotion of obesity or unhealthy living styles. But for those who have spent a lifetime hating themselves, it’s a path to forgiveness. I’ve even found myself practicing a much healthier lifestyle without meaning to. I recognized that my mind felt more clear after a walk, so I began to go every day. My heart raced uncomfortably after energy drinks, so I switched to ice cold water. All this time though, I never felt pressure to eat one thing or another—it was simply what made me feel okay. 

For some, body neutrality is a stepping stone to body positivity. For now, it’s my destination. By detaching myself from my body, I’ve become more in tune with it than ever before. I’m no longer the little girl worried about how boys perceive me—I’m just myself. And that’s all I need to be.

 

All images are courtesy of the author.