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Adebusola Abujade / Her Campus Media

Body Positivity vs Body Neutrality

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

Is it possible to love your body all the time? This is a fundamental question of a lesser-known movement called ‘Body Neutrality’, which can be understood as an opposition to ‘Body Positivity’, a philosophy of body image. Body Positivity has risen in popularity in recent years as a reaction to decades of unrealistic beauty standards projected onto our bodies and propped up by traditional media, social media, celebrity culture, corporations and the list goes on. Today’s ‘body positivity’ asks us, by way of posting fat rolls and stretch marks, to consider all bodies as beautiful. But, it does not ask the stream of corporations who are co-opting this movement, why are so many people at war with their bodies and what ammunition they have provided in this battle?

The body positivity movement finds its origins in the late 1960’s amongst the massive counter-culture movements at the time. Back then, the movement was inherently political and understood that loving bodies that are devalued and discriminated against by state was a revolutionary act. These bodies included trans bodies, disabled bodies, fat bodies and Black bodies, to name a few. However, the Body Positivity movement today seems suspiciously divorced from politics, embraced by capitalism and its face not as diverse. 

The first image that body positivity might conjure today is a group of (probably cis) attractive women of different colors standing in a row, maybe wearing some nude underwear, laughing as they show off some fat rolls. The message here is to love your body the way it is and to be rid of your inner critic. The merits of this message do exist. The visibility of differently sized bodies is an important move from the idolatry of the skinny body, but the latter has not entirely dissipated. Also, the message is most likely sponsored by a brand (maybe Dove or Victoria Secret) who have a vested interest in you believing this message to buy their products. Not so revolutionary. The brand in question will almost never acknowledge how the histories of their products have always discriminated against certain bodies and are the very reason why we need movements like Body Positivity in the first place. Instead, these brands would like us to believe that our self-hatred is merely our own to fix, not at all a consequence of the structures they have built. 

The modern Body Positivity movement has lost its radical roots and is merely aesthetic. It has become confused with body-confidence. It suggests self-love is a quick and easy antidote to years of systemic body conditioning. For many, body positivity – though somewhat helpful – has not been sufficient enough to balm their relationships with their bodies. For example, those who have suffered from disordered eating or dysmorphic feelings can struggle with the demands of body positivity as loving their bodies can feel an unattainable feat

And so, Body Neutrality comes to the rescue. Body Neutrality asks us to still steer away from self-hatred to a place of respecting our bodies without the pressures of having to love them constantly. It is a philosophy that understands that structural conditions make it hard to live in a place of love for our bodies consistently. However, it also understands that the aesthetic fixation on our bodies is a toxic by-product of patriarchy. Body Neutrality suggests that we do not give too much energy into how our body looks in this first place. Instead of demanding self-love, it just asks that we come to peace with our bodies. 

Body Neutrality might seem like a utopic state of mind to aim for in a world that is hyper-focused on image and aesthetic. Nonetheless, it is an interesting alternative to consider for those who feel Body Positivity has betrayed them, has forgotten them or has given them a bandage to fix a bullet wound. 

Ali is currently studying Politics, Sociology and Media & Writing at UCT. She is guided by intersectional feminist philosophies which fuel her deep passions for social justice and creative expression. Though writing is her first love, she is constantly finding new ways to express herself whether it be through film, theatre, photography or visual art - all of which are art forms she actively consumes too. In her free time, she will probably be finding new ways to bend while practicing yoga or baking a sweet treat. She recommends everyone read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.