Anyone who has been on Instagram in recent years has probably heard of body positivity. You’ve seen the posts and the hashtags. Maybe you’ve also seen the before-and-after photos. The ones where the before is a thin woman in workout gear or a bathing suit and the after is the same thin woman, but this time hunched over so that she has a bit more of a visible belly. Maybe you saw images like this accompanied by a #BodyPos hashtag and thought, “Is this what body positivity is? Is it meant for me? Or them?” And in truth, the answer can be a bit complicated. But as certified personal trainer and inclusive fitness expert Lauren Leavell says, the most important thing to know is that body positivity is not the same thing as positive body image.
“Body positivity is a social movement that centers marginalized bodies and emphasizes that all bodies are deserving of respect. It is commonly confused with positive body image,” Leavell says. “Positive body image means liking the way you look. Having positive body image does not mean you are body positive. Body neutrality can focus more on what your body can do right now, rather than fixating on what needs to be done.”
If you’re now wondering, “Uh, what’s body neutrality?” then you’re in the right place. At its core, body neutrality is the idea that you can exist without having to think too much about your body one way or another, positive or negative. You can simply exist and be worthy of respect without thinking about your body at all. Or, feeling good about it one day and not as good about it the next. Not sure if it’s for you? Here’s Leavell and eight more wellness experts’ takes on why body neutrality can be powerful.
“Body neutrality could be helpful for someone in recovery from an eating disorder or just looking to be more connected to their body. Going from ‘I do not like my body’ to ‘I love my body’ can be a stretch for a lot of people. Body neutrality offers a space to observe without judgement and forced positivity.”
“Body neutrality is minimizing body negativity; for example, saying to yourself, “I may not feel good about my body, but I will try not to put myself down or make myself feel bad about my body. For some people, getting to body positivity feels like too much of a challenge for any number of reasons, including history of trauma, internalizing weight stigma, and/or feeling restricted because of their body’s limitations. Body neutrality is a place to start to reverse the impact of internalizing the trauma of weight bias and stigma. Sometimes body positivity can feel ‘fake’ and body neutrality feels more authentic, which is so important when you are working on living authentically and joyfully in the body you have.”
“Body neutrality is a better approach for the collective because it encourages people to focus on what our bodies can do as opposed to what they look like. Furthermore, the journey of trying to find self love is one composed of steep highs and lows. We try to focus on self love and body neutrality. Outwardly stating to our community that we are ‘body positive’ can make us feel like frauds on those days where we might not have such a loving outlook on our body. On the other hand, if we're focusing on body neutrality, it's a much easier space to occupy because the highs and lows are always met with the same attitude of acceptance. It also allows us to focus on things like being grateful for what function our bodies do possess as opposed to what features we don't possess.”
“I believe body neutrality has changed the conversations we are having with ourselves. It helps to emphasize the importance of valuing yourself as more than just your appearance. Learning to focus on accepting yourself as a whole person, is where the magic is.”
“I encourage the women I work with to experience body love. Body love is the embodiment and practice of radical self love on a multidimensional level; the physical body, emotional body, and the energetic body. When we love ourselves from the inside out, specific words don’t matter as much as how good one feels about themselves without the need for any definition or reflection. And, if body positivity, neutral or love works for an individual, then that is the phrasing to adopt. Each person will grow in and out of words, but it is the feeling of self-worth that is important."
“Body neutrality encourages individuals to be loving and accepting of the body you are in while at the same working towards your health and fitness goals. This is a fundamental practice within my methodology, emphasizing on achievements vs. appearance can be very inspiring both mentally and physically.”
“Body neutrality is much more beneficial in so many ways because it is a more authentic and empowering approach to acceptance. It’s not about ignoring your imperfections, because being perfect doesn’t exist. It’s about honoring and cherishing your body in a way that encourages you to take care of it without judgment. It’s being able to say, “this is my body and you can take it or leave it, but you better believe I’m going to use it for all that is capable of.”
“Body neutrality has its foundations in what your body does, not how it looks. That shifts the focus from controlling it to finding gratitude for it. What does your body allow you to do: take you on adventurous walks, hug your loved ones, experience a sumptuous meal, etc. Body neutrality communicates that our bodies are vehicles-that when treated with care- can become vibrant vessels for life to move through them. For many, this takes the pressure to love our bodies all the time off the metaphorical table. While we may not like our stretch marks, we appreciate that our body was able to birth a child. When we have gratitude for the miraculous body, we cultivate joy, we can listen to its needs, we are better able to provide it with those needs.”