3 women representing body positivity and body diversity
  • July 9, 2023

Body Neutrality vs Body Positivity | Imbodi Health Eating Disorder Dietitian Clinic

The relationship you have with your body is one that is lifelong, and it can ebb and flow with time.  […]

The relationship you have with your body is one that is lifelong, and it can ebb and flow with time. 

There are many things that can influence the way you see or feel about your body. These could include social media, your social network, diet culture, and the growing health and wellness industry.

Having poor body image or an unhealthy relationship with your body is something that many people struggle with. A survey from The Butterfly Foundation showed that over half of its respondents rarely or never speak positively about their appearance (1). 

It may feel difficult to navigate your relationship with your body. However, it is extremely important to maintain a healthy relationship with your body as it can affect many other aspects of your life.

In this article, we will break down what it means to build a relationship with your body, and the different aspects of body positivity and body neutrality.

 

Body image

‘Body image’ is a term that refers to how you see, think, and feel about your physical body (2). Preoccupation with your appearance, or negative thoughts and opinions can have an impact on your overall health and behaviours.

Having poor or negative body image can lead to low self esteem, psychological distress and a poorer quality of life (3, 4). It is also associated with unhealthy eating and exercise behaviours (4) and an increased risk for eating disorders (3).

On the other hand, a relationship of appreciation with your body is more commonly linked with better overall health and general wellbeing (3).

 

girl looking in the mirror concerned with body image

 

Building a healthy relationship with your body

Your relationship with your body includes the way you think about yourself and the way you treat your body.

This relationship is especially important as it can affect all other relationships in your life (5).

There are different avenues you can consider when developing the relationship you have with your body.

Body positivity challenges society’s narrow standards of appearance and encourages everybody to love their body, regardless of size, shape, weight, colour, or physical abilities.

However, for some, this seems near impossible to achieve. This is where the concept of body neutrality can be helpful.

Body neutrality shifts the attention away from how a body looks, and instead focuses on what a body can do. It focuses on neither loving or hating your body, but rather respecting it.

 

What is body positivity?

The body positivity movement evolved from challenging structural biases and discrimination in the fashion and beauty industries (6). Over time, social media has also become a platform to spread awareness of body positivity.

The aim of body positivity is to address beauty ideals and challenge unrealistic stereotypical standards. It celebrates diversity and focuses on the inclusion of all bodies.

Put simply: no matter what shape, size, colour, weight, or abilities, all bodies are considered ‘good’.

The main message of body positivity is that all bodies are deserving of acceptance and should be loved. It strives for the acceptance and appreciation of all bodies and their differences.

This is all with the intention to increase positive body image and self esteem.

However, practicing body positivity may seem like a far away concept for some. As many people already struggle with body preoccupation and poor body image, the concept of loving their bodies now or in the future seems like an impossible or daunting task.

 

What is body neutrality?

On the other hand, body neutrality takes a different approach.

Rather than focusing on the appearance of a body, body neutrality sees the body as a vessel to get one through life (8).

It recognises that how your body looks is not the most important thing about you. Rather, it focuses on what your body can do for you.

It is a shift in perspective. Shifting the focus away from negative and damaging thoughts and opinions, towards a neutral zone.

The main message of body neutrality is: whether you are satisfied or unsatisfied with your body, you don’t need to love or hate it, but you must respect it.

A main aspect of body neutrality is existing within a body without thinking too much about how it looks (8). This way of thinking removes the link between physical appearance and self worth.

 

woman sitting on a yoga mat meditating

 

What’s the difference between body positivity and body neutrality?

When comparing body positivity and body neutrality, there are a few differences apparent between the two.

Whilst both perspectives promote acceptance, body positivity still focuses on physical appearance while body neutrality ignores this completely. 

With body positivity, you are encouraged to love your body no matter what it looks like. 

However, wWith body neutrality, you are encouraged to respect your body for all it can do for you during all of life stages.

Body neutrality is also different to body positivity in that it does not suggest the need for positive feelings towards your appearance (8). You do not need to love or like your body, but you need to respect and care for it. 

Body neutrality focuses on functionality instead of appearance, and removes the association between appearance and worth. 

 

Which is better to practice?

Choosing to practice body positivity or body neutrality is a completely individualised decision. Important things to consider include your current feelings and relationship towards your body, and the lived experiences that have led you to this point (9).

There are many resources online that can assist your journey with positive body image and forming a healthy relationship with your body, including the Imbodi Health podcast.

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

The advantages and downfalls of body positivity and body neutrality

Pros of Body Positivity

  • It aims to accept and appreciate all body types and sizes.
  • It promotes inclusivity of all bodies.
  • It challenges limiting and unrealistic societal standards of beauty.
  • Exposure to body positivity content can potentially increase body satisfaction and emotional wellbeing (10).

 

Cons of Body Positivity

  • The concept can feel unattainable for some (especially those with poor self image).
  • The movement still emphasises that physical appearance is a component of self worth.
  • It can feel like an overwhelming change in perspective for some people.
  • For those who struggle to see themselves ever loving their body, it can cause feelings of shame, failure or guilt.

 

4 women celebrating body positivity

 

Pros of Body Neutrality

  • It focuses on non-physical characteristics of your body.
  • It challenges the myth that the way you look drives your worth.
  • The concept encourages a change in conversation away from our bodies.
  • It does not impose certain feelings, but rather promotes a neutral zone.
  • It promotes respect and care for your body, no matter what it looks like.
  • It promotes acceptance of the body as it is, without pressure for change.
  • Practising body neutrality helps recognise how you feel in your body.

 

Cons of Body Neutrality

  • In cultures that systematically place self worth based on appearance, achieving body neutrality can be a difficult process.

 

Achieving body positivity or body neutrality may not be an easy journey. Below are some practical tips on how to shift your perspective.

 


 

How to practise body positivity

  • Curate a social media feed that promotes diversity in bodies.
  • Practice positive affirmations- either saying it out loud to yourself in the mirror, placing encouraging notes around your space, or having daily encouragements in your phone or computer.
  • Counter negative thoughts about your body with a positive thought.
  • Cut out negative self talk- if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend or little sister, don’t say it to yourself.
  • List all the things you love about yourself.
  • Wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good.

 

 

How to practise body neutrality

  • Curate a social media feed that includes a diversity or bodies, and doesn’t only focus on bodies.
  • Reduce body checking behaviours– such as using the scale, staring in the mirror, or constantly looking at past photos of yourself.
  • Reduce negative self talk (and instead speaking to yourself like you would a best friend).
  • Practice gratitude for what your body does for you.
  • Acknowledge negative body thoughts or conversations and reframe them to a neutral zone or one of appreciation.
  • Listen to your body (this can include honouring cravings, exercising in a way that makes your body feel good, or acknowledging signs that it needs a break).
  • Redirect conversations that centre around weight and appearance.

 

curating your social media to improve body image

 

Summary

Creating a positive self image and strong self esteem is a lifelong journey.

Whether you choose to practise body positivity or body neutrality, your relationship with your body is one of the most important relationships of your life. Therefore, it requires individualised strategies, patience and understanding.

While it can be difficult to navigate, there are many resources available to assist in creating a healthy relationship with your body, including the Imbodi Health podcast.

If you would like support in challenging diet culture and finding peace with your body, the team of dietitians at Imbodi Health are here to help you. Book in a free 15 minute discovery call to see if they are the right fit for you.

 

BOOK IN A FREE DISCOVERY CALL WITH OUR DIETITIANS
 

Written by: Student dietitian Claudia Torrisi

Review by: Accredited Practicing Dietitian Jade Wrigely

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