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Illustration by Timothy Chiu

Navigating the Line between Body Neutrality and Body Positivity

Everyone's journey to self-love and acceptance is unique. Here is an insight into two trending concepts that lay out different paths for you to walk along.

Mar 6, 2023

Body neutrality has emerged very recently as a counter-movement to the body positivity movement. But has not body positivity already advocate for a healthy lifestyle and body? There are a plethora of factors that differentiate body positivity from body neutrality. Body neutrality can be directly equated to self-appreciation or having a neutral position towards your body. On the contrary, body positivity imposes a sort of romanticization and glamorization towards all bodies, claiming that people should love their bodies at all times. Thus, it has driven many people to view their bodies through a toxic positive lens in which they force themselves to constantly pretend to admire their bodies. This can be a huge detriment to one’s physical and mental health.
As a preface, it is important to draw a distinction between the purpose and interpretation. This piece does not repudiate the fact that the movement has promoted self-love and a positive body image; however, many have misinterpreted its messages using it as leeway to engage in harmful behaviors, hence why the movement has become flawed. The message delivered and the way the message is interpreted are two different things that have a very thin line between them.
The roots of the body positivity movement date back to 1960 when the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) pushed forward the agenda of “fat liberation.” The chairman of the organisation claimed that it wanted equal rights for fat people; however, just like any other Western organization at the time, it was extremely white-dominated, silencing people of colour. In the 1990s, the term “body positivity” became a very popular term used by fat activists to eradicate Eurocentric beauty standards. The movement significantly expanded throughout the West and Europe, in which many body positivity organisations were founded such as the first UK group that tackles prejudices against fatness. In today’s world, social media has been a pertinent factor in bolstering the movement’s popularity trying to push forward the message, “love the skin you’re in” as much as it can.
The body positivity movement is extremely flawed, and is therefore facing a lot of criticism. As mentioned previously, body positivity has vastly excluded people of color and the queer community although they were both integral invigorators for the movement. Not to mention that it has placed unrealistic standards for people. Such standards include admiring your body nonstop, which can be very idealistic for people, as a large amount of people report not actually loving their body. Despite these criticisms, this approach remained the prevailing one leading to so many flaws. The constant itch to “love your body unconditionally” can lead to adverse impacts, physically and mentally.
People suppressing their emotions is a by-product of this movement since people are inclined to not express their true feelings about their body. This is directly correlated to high levels of anxiety and depression. A study conducted by the APA shows that women who watch television programs aimed at advocating for body positivity have felt more insecure about their bodies, which shows that the movement can sometimes be counter productive. As a result of this movement, people can become supremely obsessed with their own appearance which can lead to severe mental health problems, some being anorexia and chronic body dysmorphia. As for the physical impacts, the narrative that the movement pushes can make people engage in unhealthy eating habits like overeating, starving themselves or even over exercising. A prominent example is Chloe Ting's 2-week ab workout that emerged during the pandemic. Such workouts had created an urge to 'perfecting bodies' which in some cases have even led to eating disorders. According to medical professionals, someone’s periphery does not identify how healthy or unhealthy they are, nor does their weight. Health is a very complex concept with many factors influencing it, so it cannot be solely identified by looking at someone or by knowing their weight. When talking about health, the Body Mass Index (BMI) has been used for decades to measure the “healthy” weight of a person. This index only uses one’s height and weight to measure excluding other pertinent factors such as bone density, muscle mass and intersectionality of standardised body proportions. It also is a very eurocentric scale as it was initially created to measure the ideal weight for a cis white European man, which means that it cannot be applied to any other demographic.
Body neutrality is a mindful concept that encourages us to zoom out and look at our body as an entity that complements us regardless of its shape. Furthermore, it makes us appreciate our body for getting us through every minute, every day, and every year since our birth. For instance, scrolling through social media, I always saw the conventionally attractive men who I envied. As a result, I kept looking for ways to have a body similar to theirs, so I started excessively working out for that sake which immensely lowered my self-esteem and self-love. After going to a nutritionist and getting a personal trainer, I was regaining some of my self-esteem and knowing how to love myself. I then realised that my body has helped me tackle so many obstructions; the way to pay it back is to appreciate it and treat it nicely. Thus, looking in the mirror and forcing yourself to utter the words “I love my body” is futile to some extent. One should appreciate this one entity that transports them from one place to another, endures their hardships, and holds our biological systems for us. Additionally, it encourages people to look beyond their physical appearance and dismantle that connection between their body and their self-worth.
There are a number of ways to appreciate your body such as going on a walk for an hour or so. Walking as a mindfulness practice prompts a person to immerse themselves in the environment and engage all their senses. This leads to an increased connection with one’s own body and its limits. Another way is simply eating the foods that give your body the nourishment it needs while also not denying what you crave, so that you can establish a healthy relationship with food in general. An additional way is also starting a body appreciating practice. This activity is similar to journaling; it is just writing down things you appreciate about your body. This can help you acknowledge things you did not know your body can even do. All these activities may seem like preposterous acts; however, they are simple yet effective ways of appreciating your body.
Not to mention that this movement emphasized that we, as humans, are very intricate and multifaceted entities. Reducing ourselves as human beings to our bodies would be an oversimplification of our intricacies feeding into the minimalist perspective as humans are multidimensional beings that transcend the physical body. In the context of body neutrality, being multifaceted refers to being aware that our value is not defined by our body since we have an abundant amount of aspects to sculpt our identity and they include our interests, values, relationships etc. Body neutrality as a mindset of looking objectively at oneself motivates a person to appreciate the multifaceted nature of health and self-love. Thus, every person has their own puzzle frame and their body is just one puzzle piece that complements that frame. No one should give any puzzle piece more importance than the other. Even if one does not like their body, they can contemplate a way of treating this body with tenderness to show gratitude towards it which is conducive to a healthy lifestyle and immense mindfulness.
Some may argue that body positivity and body neutrality are not mutually exclusive, and both can contribute positively to a person's self-esteem and self-appreciation. While body positivity encourages loving one's body, body neutrality promotes gratitude towards the body, recognizing its functionality beyond its appearance. It is possible to view these two concepts as existing on a continuum, where individuals may integrate aspects of both or lean more towards one than the other. Everyone's journey to self-love and acceptance is unique, and there is no singular path to follow. Therefore, the map for both movements has been laid out, but it is up to each person to choose their own compass that they want to use.
Wajd Ashira is a Columnist. Email them at
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