The reality is that we still live in a world that values people’s appearance over their personal qualities and contributions to the world. To combat this, recently the body positivity movement has grown in popularity with its messages to ‘love your body’. However, for people with a history of body image issues and disordered eating, this ‘love your body’ goal is often unrealistic. A new concept, ‘body neutrality’ has made its way into the mainstream to provide a more realistic balance between body-hatred and body-love. The aim of body neutrality is not to necessarily love how you look all the time, but to respect your body enough so that you can take care of it, even when you’re having a bad body image day. Ultimately, it is knowing your body is good and worthy of care regardless of how it looks.
Here are some tips to help you work towards body neutrality:
- Curate your social media
It is absolutely true that the images we are exposed to have a profound effect on our body image. Social media is flooded with images of ‘perfect’ bodies that fit Western cultural standards of beauty and these tend to make us feel bad in comparison. I highly recommend curating your social media (especially Instagram as it’s a very visual platform), to show images of diverse bodies that more accurately reflect what people who aren’t influencers or celebrities look like. Find accounts displaying larger bodies, black bodies, disabled bodies and transgender bodies living their lives unapologetically, and you’ll quickly realise what the ‘unfiltered’ world actually looks like.
Extra tip: follow @i_weigh on Instagram
- Focus on functionality
For me, one of the most important aspects of maintaining body neutrality is to focus on what my body can do, not what it looks like. The human body really is amazing, and we shouldn’t take this for granted. Think about all the things your body can do – allow you to hug people, eat your favourite foods, listen to music, walk places – you name it! I like to think about my body as simply the vessel that carries me through life and allows me to have experiences and create memories and that really helps me put in perspective how silly it is to be so fixated on the size or appearance of my body.
- Practice the ‘when I’m 80’ mindset
This is one of my favourite tips. Essentially, the ‘when I’m 80’ mindset means thinking about what you’d like to be remembered for and what you’d like to remember when you look back on your life. A common strategy employed by eating disorder therapists is to get people to think about their eulogy or eulogies in general. It’s highly unlikely that someone’s going to say ‘she was a size X and had great abs’ at your funeral! They’re much more likely to remember the amazing person you were and everything you achieved in your life. I think this a great way to remind yourself to focus on living life, rather than manipulating or being concerned about your body.
- Remember your personal strengths
Think about all your incredible strengths. You might be compassionate, hardworking, generous, creative etc. These things have nothing to do with you look like! Similarly, think about your friends and family members. I’m 99% sure that your favourite things about these people are NOT what they look like or how much they weigh!
- Set boundaries
It’s super important to protect yourself from harmful messages by setting boundaries with friends and family. Ask them to avoid certain topics of conversation and messages like praising weight loss, talking about manipulating their bodies through exercise and fatphobic comments. This helps to reduce the negative influence of your social circle on your body image. If someone continuously violates the boundaries you set, then it might be scary but it’s ok to cut ties with them to protect your mental health.
- Get familiar with Health At Every Size
This is a whole other topic in itself, but I thought I’d briefly mention it here. One of the biggest recommendations I have is to learn more about HAES, because it completely debunks the current ways size and health are thought about in our culture. It shows that your weight pretty much has nothing to do with your health and this can really help you to feel more confident living in the body that is within your setpoint weight (where your body is naturally designed to be).
I hope you find these tips helpful. Remember, body neutrality is challenging because it’s difficult to go against the constant tide of diet culture messages we often receive on a daily basis. So please be compassionate with yourself and remember, body neutrality is not a destination but a practise that we can implement, starting today.
Written by Sophie Smith
Eating disorders advocate and lived experience advisor
@SophieClare1103 on Twitter