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Why Neutrality?

Why I prefer body neutrality to body positivity

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#TransparentTuesdays

Hi friend, 


People occasionally ask me why I teach and coach body neutrality, as opposed to body positivity.


I’ve written about this before—and I even have a whole chapter about it in my book BODY NEUTRAL—but it’s important, so I want to explore it here too. 


First of all, I think it’s important to acknowledge first that the body positivity movement started as a social justice movement, rooted in the “fat acceptance” activism of the 1960s, and focused on gaining visibility, rights, protections, and dignity for people in fat bodies… all of which I’m completely supportive of, and aligned with!


Photo of women giving each other high fives and support

The original intent of the body positivity movement can still be found in adjacent movements, like fat liberation and fat liberty/fat futurism, as well as many social justice spaces focused on gaining visibility, rights, protections, and dignity for people in marginalized bodies, such as disability justice, intersectional feminism, and Black Lives Matter. 


But the reality is that, at this point, the term “body positivity” is more commonly understood as a movement focused on helping individuals learn to love and accept their bodies, based on the idea that all bodies are beautiful, so everyone should be able to feel beautiful and confident, and love their bodies.


Now, there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with people wanting to love their bodies, but…


I take issue with the way body positivity often mistakes loving your body with loving how you look. 


Loving our bodies can be powerfully healing (and even fully compatible with body neutrality!) when it’s understood the same way we love others, which is to say, when we recognize that our bodies are unconditionally worthy of care, kindness, and respect—both no matter how we look, and no matter how we would prefer to look!


After all, we all have tons of preferences about things in life that don’t necessarily have the power to make us miserable, right? For example, you might prefer it when your kids are well behaved, or when your partner grows a beard, but I’m guessing you still love them and see them as fundamentally worthy, even when these preferences aren’t happening!


The same is true of ourselves and our bodies, and in my experience body neutrality is the most effective strategy out there for cultivating that kind of unconditional care and respect!


But this actually brings us to another aspect of the mainstream body positivity movement that I take issue with– it often seems to suggest that we can, and should, just change our aesthetic preferences.


In some ways, this feels like the obvious solution to body image issues, because if we could just stop wanting to look different, then we would finally be able to find peace. And if we could come to actually prefer to look exactly how we look, then all of our problems would be solved! 


Unfortunately, this just isn’t realistic or achievable for most people. 


Our aesthetic preferences are informed by our social conditioning about what it means about a person to look a certain way, including what makes a person good or bad; worthy or unworthy; deserving or undeserving. This conditioning runs deep, and is backed up by a lifetime of experiences seeming to “prove” that there is a good/right way and a bad/wrong way to look. 


After all, we live in a society where people are seen and treated differently depending on how they look; where looking one way is likely to open doors, while looking another way is likely to close them. Is it really realistic to imagine someone could ever prefer to look a way that they know would make their life harder


Of course not. 


We don’t expect people struggling financially to change their mindsets and start preferring to live in poverty, and we shouldn’t expect people to change their aesthetic preferences and start preferring to live in a body that makes their life harder, either.


Again, this is something I love about body neutrality– it makes space for you to be exactly where you are right now, including both how you look, and how you feel about how you look. 


Body neutrality doesn’t mean you’ll never have any thoughts, feelings, or preferences about your appearance ever again, it just means you recognize that how you look doesn’t actually mean anything about who you are as a person, your character, your value/worth, or what you deserve in life


Photo of a woman giving herself heart hands

It makes space for the full range of human emotions and experiences—including the experience of wishing you looked different, or feeling disappointed or frustrated with the way you look. 


The difference is that with body neutrality, those feelings and experiences and preferences simply don’t have the power to negatively impact the way you see yourself, or to ruin your mood, day, vacation, or life. 


I think this might be one of my favorite things about body neutrality, actually: the way it invites you to be curious (instead of judgmental) about everything, including your thoughts, feelings, and preferences, and why the way you look feels so damn important to you. 


This approach helps foster self-compassion right away, and makes it way easier to figure out what might be going on under the surface of your body image issues… as well as the work you need to do to stop assigning your body so much significance!


Body neutrality helps you dismantle and divest from oppressive, toxic, and false beliefs about what people’s bodies mean about them, so that you can come to see people (yourself included!) as three dimensional human beings who are inherently worthy of respect, kindness, and love… not because of the way they look, but because of who they are on the inside. This makes body neutrality a far more realistic and effective strategy for overcoming the stress and distress associated with body image issues, compared with body positivity, for most people.


Are you looking for help on the journey to body neutrality? If so, I have a few private coaching spots opening up at the moment and I would love to work with you! Check out the options here, and apply to learn more about working together!


Big hug,

Jessi

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