“How do you stay so confident?”
It’s a question most body-positive activists are asked — and it is a fair one. After all, the movement is bombarded by photos of folks who flaunt their rolls and cellulite without the slightest bit of perceived struggle.
The truth is, there’s never been a blueprint for achieving body acceptance. Most people choose to embark on a journey that takes anywhere from days to years to complete. It is also an imperfect journey, one where self-love isn’t as linear as anyone would hope it’d be.
But for those who feel the pressure to love themselves is too overwhelming, there is something slightly more attainable: body neutrality.
While Body positivity preaches unwavering self-love, body neutrality is almost indifference. It is the acknowledgement that your body exists in its current state and your reaction to that is more factual than it is emotional.
“Whilst body positivity promotes loving your body and self-love in general, an aspect of body positivity is also not caring what you look like and realizing you are more than a body, and that your body and your appearance doesn’t define you,” said Michelle Elman, a body-positive activist and certified body confidence coach.
This can be particularly useful for those who are struggling with eating disorders and diagnosed body dysmorphia.
Rebekah Doweyko, the assistant vice president of clinical operations at Walden Behavioral Care (a center providing specialized care for individuals and families impacted by all types of eating disorders), said that body neutrality provides ED survivors with a more attainable option.
“Certain groups of individuals, for instance those who may have experienced trauma or are amid gender identity issues, might (understandably) have difficulty accepting their bodies. In those cases, body neutrality might be a more realistic short-term goal, with the hope of working towards body positivity over time.”
The need to disassociate is less of an endgame and more of a stepping stone, Elman explained.
“Body neutrality often comes before body love, it is a stepping stone because it’s more feasible to be neutral towards your body than to jump from body hate to body love. What is often not discussed is that a large motivation for body neutrality is apathy from being exhausted about caring about your body too much.”
Not everyone agrees. For some, body neutrality is two steps backward rather than a step forward.
Noelle Cordeaux, a coach, sexologist and relationship expert, thinks body neutrality has an impact on self-awareness.
“The difference between the two is feeling. Body neutrality indicates a blank expression, lack of connection, and in fact, disconnection. Body positivity represents engagement, having fought through dissatisfaction and neutrality to a place where feelings about one’s body are not scary or repressive. Body positivity takes courage where as body neutrality is a cop out — halfway there.”
From this point of view, the implication is that body neutrality is dissociative, not indifferent. It admittedly blurs the lines — after all, how can you ignore something you live with every second of every day?
The sad fact is most people cannot disengage with their appearance.
A 2016 study concluded that both men and women suffer from a poor body image.
“Few men (24%) and women (20%) felt very or extremely satisfied with their weight, and only half felt somewhat to extremely satisfied,” said David Frederick, an assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University, in a statement. “These findings are consistent with the emphasis placed on the importance of being slender for women and for appearing athletic and/or lean for men. It would seem therefore, that we still have a long way to go before we achieve the goal of Americans being truly happy with their bodies.”
So for Elman, and many who struggle with self-love, neutrality is less than dangerous — it’s essential in the face of any other option:
“Body neutrality is essentially spending less hours in your day thinking about your body and not letting your body be a deciding factor in your decisions in your day to day life and even that, without body love, is liberating and considered controversial compared to the rest of society,” said Elman.
While it is fair to say there is space for both in the self-love movement, a full replacement of body positivity isn’t necessarily the way to go. But it is one hell of a good start.