Maybe you’ve heard about body image, but have you heard about body neutrality? Once the groundwork has been laid for understanding body image, you can begin to move toward body neutrality.
What is body neutrality?
First things first. We can’t run before we’ve learned to walk — meaning the idea of body love or positivity can be extremely scary or off-putting if you have hated and disrespected your body for a long time. This is where body neutrality comes in.
Body neutrality focuses on being neutral or “okay” with the body you live in now. It is a great first step toward making peace with your body image. By focusing on neutrality, it takes the stress and pressure away from forcing yourself to produce love or positivity toward your body. Body positivity gives off a “good vibes only” feel toward body image but it often takes a little negativity, discomfort and growth before you can accept yourself.
For most people struggling with body image, they won’t just wake up one day and say, “Wow, I love myself and I’m full of body positivity.” In fact, you may never be able to love yourself and that is okay! You want to work toward neutrality because it is realistic, dispels a negative narrative and focuses on self-respect. Having a neutral mindset will help you navigate life with a different outlook than allowing body hate or negativity to prevent you from accomplishing your goals and dreams.
A word on body hatred or body negativity
If you want to move on and work toward neutrality, you can’t do that without addressing the hatred or negativity you feel toward yourself and your body image. What’s most important is understanding why you feel the way you do about your body and sitting with those feelings. It might be helpful to make a list and destroy it or talk with a licensed therapist, family member or friend about these feelings.
It may also be necessary to grieve the inability to be in the body that you want. I know it sounds a little unconventional to be crying over having a certain body type, but these feelings are extremely valid. Our society values a certain look and it is pushed in media, healthcare and other social forms. It can be extremely disheartening to never be able to achieve a certain look or size you’ve wished you could be since you were young.
Get those feelings out, grieve and then start building anew. Remember, you can be unhappy at any size. Being “thin” won’t fix all your feelings or problems on the inside.
How to move toward body neutrality
Now, it’s time to begin putting your mind toward building a more neutral body image. It may not come easily but these steps are a good starting point.
- Start thinking about all the ways your body serves you: For example, if you have a heart that beats and legs that move, focus on being thankful for this instead of hating other parts of your body.
- Think of your body as a whole instead of parts you like and dislike: Your body as a whole is greater than parts you dislike.
- Accept or make peace with your body: I accept that my body won’t change and I can live with that.
- Write down 10 things you love or like about yourself.
- Start treating your body with respect: This could look like having clothes that fit correctly, practicing joyful movement or eating foods you love that you’ve previously restricted due to a diet.
- Acknowledge your negative internal messages and reframe them: Do you say something and then do the opposite? Your actions should mirror your beliefs.
- Put your morals and values over what society thinks your values should be: Society says I should be a certain size, but what do I value in a good person?
- Ask yourself how your body hate has held you back from doing things in your life: Afraid to take a spin class because you aren’t “in shape”? Afraid to go swimming because you felt you had to be a certain size? Didn’t apply to a job because you thought you couldn’t do it because you look a certain way? These are ways your body hate has held you back from experiencing life.
- Give yourself self-compassion: It’s okay that you aren’t perfect and that this is hard. Give yourself grace during this unlearning period. It takes time to change.
- Consider talking with a weight inclusive therapist and dietitian who can support you through this journey.
It may take months or years to achieve body neutrality, but once you do, it’ll feel liberating to not be constantly consumed with negative thoughts about yourself. Just because you reach this point, doesn’t mean you won’t have bad body image days. It means you’ll accept those days, focus less on those negative thoughts and remember how your body supports you daily. Once you let go of these feelings, you’ll be able to achieve things you never thought possible, like traveling the world or going for a higher-level job. The sky is the limit!
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About the author
Alessandra Stasnopolis, RDN, LDN, is a clinical dietitian and wellness coordinator in the Baylor Scott & White Health wellness department.