What is Body Neutrality? | Body Positivity, Toxicity, and Wellbeing

A hand hold red flowers, on a thigh. The skin colour of this person is brown, and they have cellulite on the left side.

You may have seen this phrase floating around TikTok or Instagram, and even in the world of women’s magazines. However, it deserves some clarity. So, let’s jump into it!

You may think it’s strange to start a post on a topic by speaking about another topic. But that’s what I’m going to do! You cannot discuss the Body Neutrality movement, without discussing the Body Positivity movement. “But, aren’t they the same thing? Isn’t it all just being happy with your body?” I can hear some of you say. No no, my sweet summer child, they are not. The current Body Positivity movement that is ‘popular’ right now (namely white thin bodies folding over to show that they too have fat on their bodies) is very different to what the Body Positivity movement started out as. 

Back in the seventies, groups across the United States began to make their voices heard on the mistreatment of fat people. The NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) was founded and called the movement Fat Acceptance. At the same time, a Californian group called the Fat Underground was formed – they released the Fat Manifesto in 1973 and it still speaks volumes to this day. Seriously, give it a read. Through the years, the movement grew, slowly seeped into the mainstream, and picked up the term Body Positivity, as well as Fat Acceptance or Liberation.

Four legs in a row. The first person is black and has slim legs. The other three are white. The second and fourth legs are slim, and the third
An example of modern day Body Positivity. Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Proving that history keeps repeating itself, a lot of mainstream fat acceptance advocates focused on the one goal, but it was the Black and marginalised communities that pushed for the real, intersectional change. What I mean by intersectional change is summarised perfectly in the Fat Manifesto – “We see our struggle as allied with the struggle of other oppressed groups, like classim, racism, sexism, ageism, capitalism, imperialism, and the like”. 

Throughout the years, Body Positivity’s goal hasn’t changed. It’s about celebrating fat bodies and owning the word fat! It’s also reclaiming and celebrating bodies that society traditionally saw as ugly, whether that be fat bodies, trans bodies, Black bodies, queer bodies, disabled bodies. Body Positivity was (and should be) a movement for marginalised bodies and voices to praise their bodies and their own damn existence, because Heaven’s knows society was stupid enough not to do it. 

However, it can be said that the Body Positivity movement has been poached and ‘reclaimed’ by people who were never truly the audience. 

This current, more popular, more society friendly movement spreads the ideals of loving your body 24/7. It’s become a buzzword, a hashtag, a “wow look how forward-facing we are!” phrase for companies. It’s no longer about fat liberation or acceptance. It’s skinny people in GymShark folding their body in half to spread the word on ~body positivity~. It’s preaching loving your physical body before anything else. The point has been lost. It’s no longer a safe space for marginalised bodies. And it’s turning into a beast of toxicity.

If you are frowning at this, disagreeing with everything I’ve just said – I get it. I do. And I understand how confusing it can be. For the longest time, I had been sucked into the circle of “YAAAAS body positivity!! All bodies are beautiful!! Show your rolls!! Love your body ALWAYS!!” But that idea is not sustainable and it’s not the idea of the original Body Positivity movement. I would find myself trapped in a back-and-forth conversation with myself everytime I thought something negative about my body. “Oh I feel upset because of this”. “Well, that’s stupid. You need to lOvE yOuR boDY!!” “But I can’t, I don’t love my body right now.” “Well, tRy HaRdER!!” And I know I am not alone in being trapped in this toxic little discourse, because the Body Neutrality movement was born out of others feeling the same.

A white body folded in on itself to create rolls. There is a strip of black lace across their stomach.
An example of photos presented as part of the modern day Body Positivity movement. Photo by Monika Kozub on Unsplash

The Body Neutrality movement aims to separate the idea of “loving your body” to “appreciating your body”.

It respects that there are generations of societal imbalances that mean it can be tough to love your body every damn minute of the day. Also the fact that constant love for your body is not sustainable, nor the most important thing in the grand scheme of things. Body Neutrality is about being able to reach a point of neutrality when looking at your body. Not standing in front of a mirror thinking ingrained negative societal norms (“my boobs don’t look like hers”, “why can’t I have a different figure?”, “God, I hate myself”), interior fat shaming (“I hate my stomach”, “my thighs are disgusting”), or toxic body positivity (“I love my body despite its flaws!”)

Body Neutrality is about learning to eradicate those thoughts. Learning that our bodies do not have flaws – it’s literally just a body. A body can’t be flawed! It’s being able to look in the mirror and say “I see my body. Thank you for all that you do for me! I appreciate you carrying about my personality and abilities”. It’s knowing that your physical body does not hold your worth. The movement also encompasses the idea that sometimes, even feeling neutral can be hard. Years of society being a dickhead isn’t going to go away overnight. And that’s okay. Sometimes your body might not work as expected. It still deserves to be treated well. 

The Body Neutrality movement isn’t here to say ‘Self-love is bad! Showing off your body is bad!’ No, no, no.

It just recognises that constant and punishing self-love can be damaging. It’s about creating a safe space for everyone, where everyone can learn to feel neutral about their body. Hopefully, this will quell the toxic Body Positive movement that’s still running about today, and will let the true Body Positivity movement thrive. Marginalised bodies still do not have the same rights and societal acceptance as non-marginalised people, so let’s go back to the roots and get some fat acceptance going!

Photo by Estúdio Bloom on Unsplash

That’s not to say, if the current BoPo movement has helped you in any way, that’s a bad thing. Anything that helps you feel at peace in your body is a positive. As long as you can see worth beyond body, then that’s a win. 

So, what can you do to start your journey to Body Neutrality, instead of Body Positivity?

I’ve got some pointers for you –

  • Check out the #bodyneutrality hashtag on Instagram or TikTok. It is full to the brim of diverse people celebrating their body beyond looks
  • Get used to your body. See it in the mirror. Look at it when you walk by a window. Work out in your underwear. It’s not something to be hidden away. It holds everything that is important on the inside, not the outside (I am aware that line was as cheesy as stilton, but sometimes cheese spouts the truth)
  • This may be a little niche, but hear me out. I am a chubby woman with a very soft belly who is a size 14/16. I certainly do not feel catered for by the straight size society, but it would be a disservice to the plus-size community to call myself plus-size because I am not – that would be pushing the outdated idea that there’s only two body types; slim or plus-size (and that idea needs to get in the bin). If you are like me, and feel the same, check out the mid-size community. I talk more about this in my ‘What Is Mid-Size?’ post if you are interested. 
  • Curate your social media. Fill it with voices and bodies that reflect body neutrality and the true body positivity movement. Some of my favourites are Stephanie Yeboah, Megan Jayne Crabbe, and The Confidence Corner
  • Finally, read up and get educated. Don’t just take my word for it – I’m just one voice. There are excellent articles online about the toxicity of the current Body Positivity movement and the history of the true Body Positivity movement. I especially love the article by Ashlee Marie Preston for Harper’s Baazar on her experience, and Style’s article on ‘Is body positivity toxic?’. Get out there and do your reading. It is fundamental. 

At the end of the day, we need to learn how to appreciate our body for what it is and what it does; it’s a body that has gotten you through every single day of your life. Isn’t that great?

Let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are, and if you know of any body neutral accounts! It’s time to share and share alike. 

(Also, if you are struggling with negative thoughts about your body and they become overwhelming or harmful, please talk to a professional. Your mental health is just as important as physical health, never forget that.)

Rosie x

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2 responses to “What is Body Neutrality? | Body Positivity, Toxicity, and Wellbeing”

  1. Thank you for writing this. I found it so insightful. I have had problems with my weight and body image all my life. Since a life changing accident in 2018 and following injury and illness and medication I have become overweight (that is just a factual reality). I just can’t see myself loving my body the way it is but maybe I could accept it?
    But in terms of trends you hit the nail on the head! I really struggle particularly with the ‘posed and un-posed/Insta versus reality’ trend. Because usually the un-posed/reality to me looks like a wonderfully slim and healthy body. So if that is supposedly ‘bad’ what is my body? Or pictures of stretch marks you can hardly see.
    I am definitely going to be looking in to some of the concepts in your post now though!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ohh thank you so much! I’m all about that body acceptance now, and I feel a lot better for it 😊

      Liked by 2 people

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