What Is body neutrality? Plus 5 ways To practice it every day
May 2, 2022

What Is body neutrality? Plus 5 ways To practice it every day

Rachel Wadsley, PhD

Have you ever felt unhappy about your body? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. The Mental Health Foundation found that 34% of women have felt upset, ashamed, or embarrassed by some part of their bodies.

Society, media, and even those closest to create negative body image messages. They teach us that we should look a certain way and our value, in some capacity, is determined by looks. It's not surprising that eating disorders are on the rise and people suffer from poor body image their whole lives.

Several movements are pushing back at these harmful societal patterns to help us feel more comfortable in our bodies. The body positivity movement and healthy at every size (HAES) movement have received the most attention from society and the media designed to end fat-shaming and help people create more self-love for their bodies and others.

What is body neutrality?

Bloggers Gabi Gregg and Stephanie Yeboah spearheaded body neutrality. Then in 2015, Anne Poirier brought the concept of practicing body neutrality into the public eye in her book “The Joyful Body.”

Body neutrality is about accepting your body as it is, without judgment. When you practice body neutrality, you stop objectifying your worth based on what your physical body looks like and what it can or can’t do.

This doesn't mean you have to love everything about your body. Instead, you’re shifting the focus from negative body talk or negative actions toward more neutral responses.

We can choose to treat our bodies in a way that promotes good physical and mental health. It comes down to respecting our bodies so we can live in a place of emotional peace and health.

Body neutrality vs body positivity

The body positive movement has been in the spotlight for a few years. But, recently, the body positivity movement has received criticism around inclusivity and practicality. Not everyone feels comfortable in or connected to their body for various reasons.

Our bodies change as we age and from life events, illnesses, or accidents. Or we may be born in a body that doesn’t represent who we are or how we feel about ourselves. As a result, the body neutrality movement has been gaining popularity. But body acceptance can be used alongside body positivity if there are parts of your body you feel more positive about.

With body positivity, you’re encouraged to embrace self-love and use positive affirmations about your body when practicing body positivity. While this can be a beneficial practice, it’s also impossible for some people. If you try to say something positive and can’t think of something, or it just feels wrong, you might feel like you failed. This can lead to more negative emotions, embarrassment, or frustration.

Even though it comes from a place of acceptance, the body positive movement still emphasizes physical appearance. The shift from hating something about your body to speaking positively about it can be a giant leap. Taking a smaller step by being neutral can be much easier, making body neutrality feel more doable.

5 Ways to add body neutrality into your life

Even though it’s easier to be neutral than positive, we’re talking about changing things we have been thinking about or doing for a long time. Start slow (and small). Seek support when you need it, and be gentle with yourself. Below are some body neutrality examples to get you started.

Mute your inner critic

When you notice your inner critic popping into your head, take a moment to pause. Acknowledge the thought and look for a way to flip it into something more neutral. For example, instead of saying, “I hate the way my arms look,” you would make a neutral observation, “my arms help me pick up my children.”

Have candid conversations

Avoid talking about physical appearance, weight, body size, dieting, or other body related topics with other people and on social media. Choose to engage with social media and activities that make you feel good about yourself. Share the body neutral stance you’re taking with those around you. Ask for their support to redirect conversations and be mindful of the types of media they use around you.

Make peace with food

Explore mindful eating and intuitive eating. Choose foods that make you feel good both in terms of your health and bring you pleasure. If you enjoy a soda or two as a fun pick-me-up or treat while choosing to have water the rest of the day to keep you hydrated, that’s great. It’s not about being “perfect” or giving up the things you love. Step away from the negative all or nothing mindset and move to one of neutrality where you’re listing to your body’s hunger and fulness cues.

Choose movement you enjoy

Choosing exercises that you feel you “should” do can result in negative feelings about movement or your body. Instead of being frustrated that you can’t run every morning (or at all) like your friend does - look for something you can do. Do you like to dance around your kitchen while you’re cooking? (Okay, maybe that’s just me).

Dress for you and no one else

There’s no need to jump on the latest fashion trend for “your body type” if it doesn’t make you feel happy. Choose clothes that make you feel comfortable and help you have more neutral thoughts about yourself.

For example, if your arms are a sensitive spot, you might choose shirts with looser sleeves. A bonus suggestion is covering or removing full-length mirrors from your home if you find mirrors trigger negative thoughts.

Do what works for you

You get to choose which method you want to use - feel free to experiment with them both. Feeling better about yourself, developing a positive relationship with food, and creating a healthier life is all that matters.

The body positive movement is a helpful method for many people and encourages self-love and positive self-talk. But it simply doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s okay! It’s essential to find what works for you and respect the decision of others to follow the model that makes them feel the best about themselves.

If you want support finding an exercise program that makes your heart sing or learn about intuitive eating - get a trainwell (formerly CoPilot) trainer. Our flexible human-to-human coaching program connects you with a real person (no bots here). Our expert trainers will work with you to co-develop healthy routines to support your wellness journey.

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Written by Rachel Wadsley, PhD

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