what is body neutrality?
Body neutrality, the philosophy of focusing on what your body can do for you rather than how it looks, may be the best way to combat unsustainable body image ideals and eating disorders.
For people who find loving their appearance 24/7 is impossible, body neutrality could be a more helpful mindset. Ultimately, the goal of body neutrality is to feel at peace with your body.
So what can this look like when put into practise? How does this compare to the popular body positive movement? Let's use some examples.
Body positive says "I feel good about myself because I know I'm beautiful." Body neutral says "How I feel about myself has nothing to do with my appearance."
Body positive says "Feeling attractive is a prerequisite to happiness." Body neutral says "Being preoccupied with what I see in the mirror leads to unhappiness."
Body positive says "My body is beautiful, flaws and all." Body neutral says "My body is just my vehicle, and the most interesting parts about me are within."
That said, you can still alter your appearance and practise body neutrality, and It means that you can do so without deriving happiness from your appearance. If someone who practises body neutrality does decide to make a change to their physical appearance, they can make the decision knowing that it won't instantly make them happier — giving them peace before and after they change their body.
Anuschka Rees, author of Beyond Beautiful Book and writer on body neutrality says,
"Body neutrality is a feminist social movement whose goal is to dial down the enormous significance that's being given to physical appearance in our society. It goes beyond body positivity in that it emphasizes pushing back not just on the specific beauty ideals of our time, but on all aspects of society that continue to promote beauty as essential, consequential and the ultimate accomplishment, and a person's appearance as indicative of their worth."
Not everyone with an eating disorder struggles with negative body image, but it is a defining factor of several types of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. And while it's common to see in either men or women, disproportionately higher rates of disordered eating behaviours are found in people who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming (from Using body neutrality to inform eating disorder management in a gender diverse world.)
For those in eating disorder recovery, having a treatment plan with a therapist and dietitian that includes body neutral practises can be incredibly beneficial. This can be done through learning about body diversity and being exposed to more types of bodies (particularly the ones that aren't commonly portrayed in our culture). As well, body appreciation can go a long way, which is done by appreciating the skills and capabilities of the body — like how it helps us move through the world.
At the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with body love, and if we can sit there for a period of time — great. It's more important however to understand that love for our bodies can't always be the end goal, especially for those who have experienced trauma, stigma or gender dysphoria.
Body neutrality can help to see our bodies as vessels that need to be taken care of, and with anything that is taken care of — we are more likely to appreciate it.
MINDY DILLARD at the Santa Cruz Fringe Festival: A musical journey through anorexia & body dysmorphia
ARTIST: MINDY DILLARD
SHOW: HOW TO SURVIVE A POISON APPLE
WHERE: THE 418 PROJECT
WHEN: Thursday July 17 at 6pm, Friday July 18 at 8:30p or Saturday July 19 at 5pm
You can transform your poison into medicine. Singer-songwriter and eating disorder survivor Mindy Dillard weaves an electric musical travelogue from her experiences with anorexia and body dysmorphia. Inspired by Carl Jung and the writings of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Dillard conjures layered soundscapes with loops and samples, original songs and tender, funny, non-linear storytelling. Dillard is a princess caught in a hall of mirrors perpetuated by the media and society. Witness her navigation of the cultural expectations force-fed into every woman and girl about body image, self-worth and finding a mate.
Part of the proceeds from this performance will benefit The Lotus Collaborative's Scholarship Program. Come join this journey away from jealousy, anger, perfection and emptiness to true fullness.
"I couldn't stop clapping. Mindy's mega-talents as a singer-songwriter, actress and storyteller lifted my heart. But, she didn't stop there. She brought me eye to eye with the dark side of the princess fable and the poison apples in the mind and culture that can result in an eating disorder. She shares clues about how she broke the spell of her disorder enough to welcome a roomful of princess with zits, glasses, and beautiful spirits, a room where being real is a female birthright. I want her show to appear anywhere girls, women, mothers, dads, educators, clergy and medical people sense that a monster lurks, a monster that only a true princess can dispel." - Cynthia Winton-Henry, Co-founder and Director of Interplay (Oakland, CA)
[A]"riveting and redeeming synthesis of music, message, story and heart" - Lisa Lepine ProMotion Queen, creative consultant (Portland, OR)
"Once again -- you NEED to see this show. It is awesome! So beautiful to see how Mindy has come into her Fullness!" - Halelupe, Singer-Songwriter (Portland, OR)
"In her candid, entertaining and courageous play How To Survive a Poison Apple Mindy Dillard offers us an opportunity to explore critical issues that girls and women face--body image, acceptance, the search for love and the messages we receive from society about what it means to be beautiful. Using humor, music, compassion and honesty, Dillard offers us an opportunity to reflect on our own relationship with our bodies. Dillard's work provides a heartfelt launching point for a discussion about eating disorders, shining a light on the struggles that girls and women face with these disorders. - Danette C. Haynes, LCSW (Portland, OR)
"It can be so difficult for preteen and adolescent girls and their families, friends, schools, and churches to begin the important conversations around issues of eating disorders, body image, and cultural expectations. Mindy Dillard’s funny, painful, and insightful one woman musical, How to Survive a Poison Apple, is a wonderful place to start. The show can be done in a church sanctuary, social hall, classroom, or even in a backyard or living room: anywhere people are ready to support each other in the journey of health for ourselves and our daughters." - - Rev. Lizann Bassham (Sebastopol, CA)
It would be entirely unfair, not to mention unrealistic, to expect every foot to fit into a size 6 shoe. So why do we imagine that we can or should make every body fit into a size 2 pair of skinny jeans?
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Period. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I will never be a 6-foot-tall, 120-pound fashion model. At an optimistic 5’7″, it just isn’t in the cards for me. And trying to make my body into something it’s not is not only impossible, it’s damaging, depressing and demoralizing. On the other hand, accepting our body as it is doesn’t have to be a resignation, in fact I like to think of it more as the begininng of a very rewarding exploration.
When we start exploring what our own personal ideal body might feel like, instead of worrying about what society’s ideal body looks like we create space for ourselves that may never have been there before. Space to listen to the internal messages that say things like, “my body feels really good after a fun workout” or “my stomach doesn’t appreciate when I put too much food in it”. Tuning in to these kinds of messages can lead to lasting life changes which are actually enjoyable because they are coming from a place of deep self-connection. Listening to media messages that say you’re too fat or not good enough rarely lead to either thoughts or behavior that make you feel good.
Today’s Asipration: Appreciate the here and now body. Make food and movement choices based on how they make your body feel, and how they make you feel in your body. If eating a light lunch or running a mile makes your body feel good, then great! But if you’re making choices that deprive or punish your body in an effort to shape it into that “perfect” media mold, stop, take a breath, and consider making a different, more connected choice.
Written by Community Outreach and Education Coordinator, Laina Copley.