Body Positive or Body Neutral?

Body Positivity. It’s a bit of a buzz term isn’t it?

It’s something we’re often told that we should be, or have, by people on the internet who don’t know us or our story.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the ‘Body Positivity Movement‘ in theory is great. It’s brought these long-standing issues to the fore and it’s got people thinking differently about their own bodies, but more importantly how they judge others’ bodies.

But, in reality, putting a photo up on Insta showing stretch marks, my surgery scars or my back rolls does not seem that appealing to me at all! Whether I like to admit to or not, I am still on that personal journey.

I can applaud others for doing it; I can think people in larger bodies are hot AF; I can try not to make a judging mental note in my head when I see a size zero girl, but why are we so much better at overlooking other people’s ‘flaws’ than accepting our own? So, when it comes down to me and if I’m confident, well it’s just not that black and white.

Where did it come from?

For decades, we have all seen mainstream media and society in general celebrate the slim, white female body as the ideal. For anyone who didn’t live up to this, they were the abnormality and felt pressure to change.

I cynically thought the Body Positivity Movement was cooked up in some US marketing firm looking for a new angle to sell more underwear but it’s actually a progression of a Fat Acceptance Movement from the 1960s. It was picked up on social media around 2012 and in the last 10 years it’s grown massively in popularity.

Now there’s over 18 million posts tagged with body positivity on Instagram with lots of variations including the more current tag ‘bopo’, or celebs creating their own version like Tess Holiday’s #effyourbeautystandards.

So is it still doing good?

A quick Google shows articles arguing that it’s not good enough and we need to do more but then you’ll find lots of studies showing clear links to better mental health and then other ones saying it’s gone too far and is no longer helpful.

One thing it definitely fails to do is take the focus away from the body and so is still all about physical appearance over anything else.

It’s also criticised for not actually being inclusive . Although it has moved us to a place where a certain level of curves are now acceptable, there isn’t as much support for people in much larger bodies, of different races, abilities, classes and people from the LBGTQ+ community. And the kicker is, it was actually people from these more marginalised groups in bigger bodies that started the movement in the 60s.

A final criticism is how it’s been co-opted by privileged people and corporations. I think this one is tricky as surely the louder the message is, the better and without non-marginalised groups and businesses shouting, will we ever make true and marked progress? For me, it’s about being an ally to others, looking for what it means to me and using my platform to make some noise about it. Whilst also sharing some background and acknowledging its roots.

And what about Body Neutrality?

This is much more modern term coined around 2013 at a US health retreat with a holistic approach to weight.

The difference to body positivity is that it doesn’t place the utmost importance on physical appearance. It’s more about seeing our bodies as neither positive nor negative and instead thinking about your body as a vessel in which you experience life.

The thing I really like about this is, it accepts you might feel good about your body one day and not as good about it the next, which reflects my personal experience.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to scroll through images of people who are shouting about how great they feel about their body. It can feel like toxic positivity in that if you haven’t made that same progress you have failed somehow.

My own journey

My body has changed fairly dramatically over the last two years. In early 2020 I was avoiding big problems in my life by going out a lot. I was also commuting to London once a week and kept so busy and active that I almost didn’t have time to eat, thus I was a size 8. I couldn’t tell you how much I weighed as I’ve never been into that, but I know it was the slimmest I’d been for over 10 years. The last time being when I was living in London, always busy, couldn’t afford to eat proper meals and ultimately not in a good place mentally.

Fast forward over two years later and I’m in a really good place with my mental health, I’m working from home now so naturally not as active, have good relationships and I’m a size 14. That’s the largest I’ve been in my whole life.

Sometimes I can be really pragmatic about it and think; well obviously I move less now, I have more time to cook really tasty food and my metabolism has slowed down as I’m passing my mid thirties, so of course I’m bigger now. Or I reason that actually, the average dress size in the UK is 16 so what does it matter anyway? And I suppose in that way, on some days, I can feel quite neutral about it.

On other days, usually if I’m creating content and I look back at the images of myself, I look at bits of my body and I don’t recognise it as me. I look at a round tummy, or chunky arms, or the worst for me: a double chin. I tell myself that if I really wanted to, I could change things: I could exercise; I could calorie count; I could even come off the birth control pills which always result in weight gain for me. I don’t feel good about myself on those days.

Or the days where I’m rushing around getting ready and I can’t zip up the dress I had planned to wear (that definitely zipped up the month before) – those aren’t my best days.

But, then there are those brilliant days. The days after a 7 mile hike, when I’m stood at the top of a big hill, with the sun on my face, feeling strong and proud of what my working body has enabled me to do, irrespective of its dress size.

Or the nights when I get dressed up, put my make-up on and go for cocktails with my girlfriends. We laugh and cackle all night and have so much fun we forget to even take any photos. And I think about the warmth and love I feel with them and how my body size or shape doesn’t even enter the room.

And the moments when I catch my behind in the mirror and think, yeah, that’s a pretty great butt I’ve got now – that’s a good day!

Take the pressure off

You can surround yourself with people who don’t look at you through that lens, but we have been so conditioned throughout our whole lives to think about it, the last piece of the puzzle is not feeling it about yourself: true body neutrality.

I’m not saying it’s easy and I’m not saying I’ve cracked it but what I am saying is there’s no right or wrong in how you feel about your own body. Whether you’re positive, neutral, or even negative it’s unlikely it’s consistent and it’s part of a longer journey you are on.

So, take the pressure off. Celebrate the good days and learn from the bad days, ultimately giving gratitude and perspective to them all. And most of all, remember you’re not alone.

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