Body neutrality: more positive than body positivity


Emma Oberg

If you’ve been on TikTok or Instagram within the past few years, you’re likely aware of the body positivity movement, which focuses on self-esteem and beauty as a one-size-fits-all concept. For some, however, a body-positive mindset can be daunting and unsustainable. The body positivity movement still enforces the idea that beauty equates to self-worth. That’s where body neutrality makes its debut.

Body neutrality as a concept started in 2015 as an alternative to body positivity. Instead of having strong feelings for or against our bodies’ appearance, body neutrality proposes that we should just appreciate our bodies for functioning and allowing us to live. It’s a concept that encourages people to focus on what their body does, rather than on their body shape, size and appearance. 

The American Psychological Association says that body neutrality increases self-confidence, minimizes anxieties about one’s physical appearance and ultimately allows individuals to appreciate their bodies for the capabilities they have and opportunities that they provide, rather than for their supposed flaws or perceived imperfections. 

Accepting a body-neutral approach to yourself means divorcing the notion that your body has any relation to your value as a human being. Instead of falling into the vicious cycle of loving and hating, body neutrality gets to the heart of the question: what are bodies for? Certainly not to fit into the snapping jaw of the ever-changing ideal of beauty. 

I guarantee you the celebrity who you think is the most beautiful person in the world has been bombarded by people saying the opposite. There is no consensus on beauty. It is an impossible pursuit.

Body positivity is a difficult mindset to attain, but it’s even harder to maintain, especially for people with physical disabilities and chronic conditions. Adopting body-positive thought puts pressure on feeling great about your body every day. Trying to find some murky definition of beauty in the mirror when you can’t be sure how your body is going to function or feel that day is overwhelming and, frankly, pointless. 

 It’s better to focus on what your body does for you rather than focusing on how you look.  Body neutrality can be helpful for those who struggle with self-image and have a hard time accepting their bodies because you aren’t failing if you don’t love your body. 

Body neutrality is not about trying to change one’s body or conforming to a standardized ideal of beauty or ability – it’s about learning to recognize and value the body for all that it does and being content with it, no matter what size or shape it may be.

Both body positivity and body neutrality aim to help people feel better about themselves, but those who are outside of the traditional beauty standard or have chronic conditions may be able to find more comfort in body neutrality.

If you’re interested in trying body neutrality or incorporating it on days where you can’t feel body-positive, start by swapping charged language and thoughts about your appearance like “I’m ugly” with neutral phrases that acknowledge your body’s ability like “my body allows me to communicate with people I love.” 

Whether you’re reading this piece with your eyes or listening with your ears, your body is allowing you to understand and consume this article. Your body allows you to learn and process information and form opinions. Your body allows you to decide how you feel about it, so take a deep breath – your body is doing exactly what it needs to be doing. 

Conversations about the body can be difficult and upsetting. If you struggle with an eating disorder, call or text 800-931-2237 to reach the National Eating Disorder Association’s free hotline. If you have been sexually assaulted, you can call 800-656-4673 to reach the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline.