Fashion + Body Image

Body Neutrality: the Freeing Mindset?

Our toxic, image-based society teaches women to value themselves and others in terms of kilograms and pounds. Shouldn’t we work towards finding peace with our body, without the Instagram standards of beauty looming over our consciousness?

Body neutrality is a middle ground between the pressures of body-hate and body positivity. A newer, progressive stride towards inclusivity, it moves the mental energy away from body consciousness and self-criticism to reach a personal harmony. But is it a workable ideal?

Body Positivity & the cycle of self-Sabotage

Body positivity seemed like the answer to the immense pressure of finding self-worth in appearance. It existed within a ‘Fat Acceptance’ movement that accelerated with the rise of social media. Plus-size models such as Tess Holliday and Ashley Graham started to grace the runways and diversify beauty ideals. Also, Stacey Solomon featured in the Women’s Health magazine, promoting a healthy body image by celebrating weight fluctuation and stretch marks in defiance of a society that shames imperfections.

Yet, body positivity has lost its meaning. The movement is confused with an unbreakable body-love, a high standard that is unattainable for many women. Therefore, it is misinterpreted as a bullet-proof body confidence that is an ultimately unrealistic aim. Body confidence is a big ask for many women, leaving them feeling disheartened when they do not achieve this unworkable standard of self-love.

Although the movement claims to be inclusive, it is ironically alienating for many women. Charli Howard as a body activist and plus size model has spoken out against the hate she received as the face of her All Woman Project. Considered not ‘curvy’ enough, her Twitter account was flooded with criticism that labelled her a fraud to the movement. Although body positivity stands for radical change in beauty ideals, its competitiveness leaves many feeling disillusioned.

Also, as body positivity grew in popularity, trans women, women of colour and those with disabilities did not fit the mould. The non-conventionally beautiful have been erased from the movement. This has allowed white, skinny, heterosexual women to use the term to shape their brands. For example, Made in Chelsea star Louise Thompson released her fitness book ‘Body Positivity’: a commercialisation and misuse of the movement. Therefore, the problem arises when the airbrushed body becomes associated with an inclusive movement that is supposed to celebrate diversity.

Body Neutrality as the safe harbour

Body neutrality, derived from body positivity, is a more realistic stride towards self-acceptance. The movement turns away from the pressure of loving or hating our bodies to a less overwhelming mindset. It is about being content, free from the burden of a constant positivity. The neutral approach is rooted in a commitment to self-respect regardless of whether you are feeling good or bad about your body. Therefore, the core of the movement teaches us not to be dominated by body image and a need to alter our appearance. The focus turns to more important and constructive aspects of ourselves that should define us. For example, our sense of humour, character and relationships with others. The attention is moved to the uses of the body rather than an obsession with its beauty. So, advocates of this movement claim it allows us to achieve a greater depth in relating to ourselves.

Shouldn’t we be able to find peace with our bodies? Jameela Jamil, an actress and founder of the ‘I Weigh’ movement, used her platform to create a safe space for women to express their defining features. These ranged from strong points to imperfections, academic achievements to mental illnesses and eating disorders. Therefore, this movement influentially challenges the impossible standards of beauty maintained by the media. Our worth should not be intrinsic to our appearance or how successful we are in conforming to beauty ideals.

Easier said than done?

But is it possible to be released from the immense pressure of appearance upkeep? In a society where fitness culture has dominated social media with its gym wear brands, clean-eating and gym selfies, it is almost impossible not be immersed in it. Alongside comments we receive on our social media posts, our perceptions of beauty are placed into the hands of our viewers. These damaging online platforms endorse the necessity of self-improvement on an extreme level. This allows the conventionally beautiful ideals to be instilled into us from a young age and encourage these continual self-alterations.

A movement claiming to remove the focus on bodily appearances in a society that is in constant debate with beauty standards seems unrealistic. In an ideal world, body-shaming would be non-existent, allowing us all to be a little more carefree. In our social media orientated society, it seems unlikely we will reach a point of complete neutrality in relation to our bodies. Yet, it is a step in the right direction. Body neutrality is a more accessible form of self-appreciation than the body positivity movement. If body positivity puts pressure on us to reach a confidence in our appearance, body neutrality is the middle ground. The core ideology of the neutral approach dispels those unrealistic expectations, to shift the focal point to your other attributes.

Putting the theory into practice: find your worth

There are many ways to introduce our immersion in this mindset. Nourishing and caring for our bodies first and foremost are the goals to a commitment to self-respect. Exercise, nutrition, even cheat days and relaxation are all part this acknowledgement of our worth. Start thinking about the other valuable aspects of yourself that should define you. This could range from your achievements, to your role in the lives of others or the battles you have overcome. These moments of self-reflection are crucial to our engagement with self-respect and defy our natural compulsions to let bodily appearances dominate our lives.

While we all accept that social media is never something we can entirely switch off from, diversifying your influencers may be a helpful way to maintain a greater sense of reality. Instagram presents us with the glorified content of others daily lives and many unrealistic standards of airbrushed beauty. Varying your feed is a beneficial way of allowing yourself some useful time out of the authentic facade of Instagram.

Literature is another way to be inspired by the movement. It allows us to see how others have reached a point of neutrality and its benefits. Anuschka Rees’ book Beyond Beautiful demonstrates body neutrality as a practical approach, shifting conversation away from the traditional value of beauty in society. Naomi Woolf’s The Beauty Myth also serves to deconstruct a woman’s natural pursuit of beauty. These are but a few books that can aid a mental progression that works towards finding inner peace.

Self-appreciation: the destination

The aim must be to make body image a smaller focus of our lives. Is it not liberating to think we could be released from the pressure of body-love or body-hate? Although it may seem almost impossible and, on some days, it will be, the movement encourages us to not judge ourselves for those common day-to-day negative thoughts.

The concept of body neutrality can offer us some respite from our destructive feelings of self-hate. It allows the opportunity to find peace with our natural selves, after all, aren’t we more than simply our physicality?

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