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.