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A Realist's Approach for Times When 'Loving Your Body' Feels Unattainable

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The mainstream body positivity movement tells us we should embrace every part of our body — our curves, stretch marks, scars and cellulite — the very parts many of us have trouble accepting, not to mention loving. Of course we should have permission to love our bodies. But that permission to love can sometimes feel like a demand to love, and not everyone can always fulfill that demand.

Feeling comfortable in and loving our bodies that deviate from conventional ideals can be a mentally healthful goal, but body positivity can also be exclusionary. For those with gender identity conflicts who experience body dysphoria, those with eating disorders who experience body dysmorphia or those with physical limitations, self-love is not always attainable — and the shame we’re told we shouldn’t feel about the way our bodies look becomes shame for not being able to consistently feel self-love.

There is, however, another option that does not involve maintaining a sustained positive attitude towards one’s body — which I might add, is another form of perfectionism itself. Body neutrality is an idea that recognizes not everyone can love every part of their body all of the time. Our relationships with our bodies are nonlinear and exist on a spectrum. Self-love is a high standard that everyone is deserving of, but may not be able to achieve.

Body neutrality is defined as it’s named: having neutral feelings toward one’s body. It’s a realist approach that suggests we accept our body as existing without engaging in an emotional reaction toward it. Acknowledge that our body performs a function, and give minimal headspace to either positive or negative thoughts about it so that we may move through our day with a focus on other matters. It can be used as a stepping stone toward body positivity, or as an endpoint in and of itself.

Body neutrality does not mean we should dissociate from our body, but rather be indifferent toward it. It does not mean we should neglect our body but rather take care of it so that it may continue to exist. It does not mean denying ourselves love of our body but rather not putting ourselves down when we have difficulty feeling it. Body neutrality can be a viable option for those who are working to make the seemingly insurmountable leap from self-hate to self-love, or anywhere in-between.

Body neutrality can be more realistic and achievable and more accessible and inclusive than body positivity. It also goes a step further than body positivity, which keeps focus on the body. Body neutrality instead questions why we should think about our body at all, and ultimately aims to move away from body-centric thoughts altogether. I believe true liberation from body image lies in a society where we neither dedicate energy toward hating our bodies, nor toward having to constantly reaffirm them. A society where we are completely free from obsession about our bodies — whether they involve positive or negative thoughts.

We are far from a post-body image society, but we can work toward both loving our bodies and not thinking about them so much. We can certainly try to love our bodies when we can, feel neutral about them when we can’t, and know that there is no shame in that.

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Thinkstock photo via AnkDesign.

Originally published: July 28, 2017
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