Exploring Body Positivity vs. Body Neutrality
Here’s why knowing the difference can help you move forward with improving your relationship with your body
Whether you are working towards eating disorder recovery, letting go of yo-yo dieting or simply trying to improve your relationship with your body, chances are you’ve heard of the term “body positivity.” While diet culture continues to control much of what we see online, we are now seeing a movement of people advocating for bodies of all shapes and sizes despite how they compare to social ideals.
As you browse through social media, you might notice people posting candid photos and videos of their body to normalize all the ways bodies can look, whether it be at different angles or at various times of day. While a seemingly bold gesture, this online content has allowed people to come together to dispel some of the age-old toxic messages about bodies and broaden the narrative on what makes a “good body.” As a Registered Dietitian working with individuals who struggle with body image, I find it refreshing to see more body positive messages circulating on online platforms. According to one study, disordered eating patterns were found to be linked to self-esteem, body image, and social media use as well as other factors.
Adopting a more body positive perspective can be helpful when trying to break-free from the dieting cycle and can help individuals feel more empowered and confident in their bodies. However, as much as I love the idea of everyone shouting body love from the rooftops, I recognize that the body positivity movement has its limitations and may not resonate with everyone. For those who feel like they’ve been at war with their body or those who feel like their body is not true to their authentic self, practicing body love is not an easy next step. If this is you, you might consider practicing “body neutrality” instead.
Below, I’ll explore the differences between body positivity and body neutrality and why this may be a better fit for your journey towards a better body image.
Body Positivity vs. Body Neutrality – What is this? What’s the difference?
Body positivity can have a slightly different meaning to each person. It can be seen as having body confidence, having love for one’s “flaws”, or being proud of one’s body shape or size. However, the meaning behind body positivity has also evolved over the last several decades. This article discusses the ties that body positivity has with the fat acceptance movement in the 1960’s and highlights its historical significance in combating social shaming of anatomy, physical behaviour and bodily processes.
For example, someone who is body positive might have thoughts such as:
“I feel comfortable in my own skin.”
“My body is perfect just the way it is.”
“I love the way my [body part] looks.”
Someone might also exude body positivity through the way they dress or express themselves to others.
While body positive affirmations can help improve an individual’s perception of their body, unfortunately the pervasiveness of diet culture and social ideals for bodies often makes loving yourself easier said than done. In addition, the body positive movement has been critiqued for being non-inclusive of marginalized and disabled bodies, thus making it a less welcoming space than initially intended.
So why might body neutrality be a better approach to improving body image?
What is body neutrality?
If we imagine body image perception to be on a spectrum with body dissatisfaction and body love on opposite ends, you would find body neutrality at the centre of both. Body neutrality is a mindset shift that encourages us to focus on what our bodies do for us rather than what they look like. Thus, it reminds us that our bodies are vessels that carry us through life, and even though we might not like them, it is still important to care for them and treat them with respect. While body neutrality can be a steppingstone towards body positivity, it can also be an end-goal for someone who simply wants to make peace with their body.
For example, someone who is practicing body neutrality might have thoughts such as:
“What my body looks like does not determine my worth.”
“My legs help me move and get me places that I want to go.”
“I can achieve a healthy lifestyle without needing to change what my body looks like.”
Why might practicing body neutrality help with improving your relationship with food?
While body image might not be at the core of each person’s strained relationship with food, there are many individuals whose history of dieting or disordered eating originated with body dissatisfaction. For this reason, practicing body neutrality can help with creating positive shifts in our attitudes toward food and make it easier to engage in eating practices that align with healing. For example, you may have experienced worries about how eating certain types or amounts of food may lead to changes to your body. By removing our bodies from the equation for making food choices, we can start to see that food takes on a much greater role in improving our mental and physical health.
For example, rather than thinking “Ice cream is bad for me”, someone who is practicing body or food neutrality might say:
“I eat ice cream because it tastes good.”
“Eating ice cream gives my body energy.”
“I like going for ice cream as it is a way that I can connect with friends/family, especially on a hot day!”
What steps can I take towards body neutrality?
It is important to know that shifting towards body neutrality requires making active changes in how we view our bodies. If you are ready to become more body neutral, here are five steps that can help:
1. Consider the factors that are negatively affecting your perception of your body.
Consider unfollowing accounts on social media that make you feel negatively towards your body or try setting boundaries with people around discussions on bodies and weight.
2. Consider what you value most in life.
Are there things that are more important spending your time/energy on (such as family, friends, work…etc.) instead of worrying what your body looks like? What can you do to spend more time focusing on these things and less on your body?
3. Shift negative self-talk about your body to something more body neutral.
Things like “My arms help me lift things at work” or “My legs help me keep up with my favourite sport” are just a few examples of body neutral phrases you can begin to practice. If this is too challenging at first, try to simply identify negative self-talk that is directed towards your body instead.
4. Highlight your own strengths.
Consider the things in life that you are most proud of that have nothing to do with your body, such as your achievements, your relationships, or how you are making a positive impact in your community.
5. Remind your loved ones of their worth.
Remember that body neutrality can extend beyond ourselves. Try giving other people compliments that have nothing to do with their body. Reminding others that their worth is not dependent on what their body looks like might help them on their healing journey too!
Are you interested in learning more about how you can practice body neutrality and heal your relationship with food?
Consider reaching out to a licensed Therapist and contact our team of Registered Dietitians as we are ready to support you!
Our caring and supportive Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellors will be your co-pilots in improving your relationship with food and your body. We will help you break free from diet prison and explore emotional eating with kindness through a body neutral approach. Learn more about our nutrition counselling programs here.
Don’t forget to check your health benefits as many plans cover dietitian services!
If you enjoyed this blog post, check out our other articles on eating disorders:
Jamie Lee Kwong
Disordered Eating, Pediatrics, Family Meal Planning & Chronic Disease
Jamie will greet you with a warm and approachable smile that has a way of putting you at ease. You can count on her to be adaptive and collaborative in coming up with right-fit solutions that meet your health, mental health and family needs. She also specializes in Mental Health, Anti-inflammatory Eating, and Arthritis.