Body positivity vs. body neutrality: It’s time to change our outlook

In recent years, the body positivity movement has taken social media by storm, emphasizing loving your body no matter how it looks. The main goals include challenging society’s oppressive beauty standards and accepting all bodies, no matter the shape or size. Although this movement may seem beneficial at face value, it can actually be more detrimental than it seems. Many people, especially those who don’t have a body that is considered conventionally attractive, can find it difficult to believe that they are “beautiful” and that their body is “perfect the way it is,” in the words of the body positivity movement.

In response, a new movement called “body neutrality” has started gaining momentum. This movement is a better alternative to body positivity, as it takes the focus off of appearance, and places it on actions. Body neutrality emphasizes focusing on the human body for what it is and does — not anything inherently bad or good. This allows people to simply exist and be worthy of respect, regardless of their bodies.

Although the body positivity movement preaches love and acceptance of yourself and your body, it still places such a strong emphasis on appearance, which is exactly what we should be trying to get away from. Body positivity aims to counteract beauty standards with statements like, “I feel good about myself because I know I am beautiful.” However, these statements only draw more attention to appearance, usually with people who are considered conventionally “beautiful” as the faces of the movement. Body positivity also focuses on the ways people feel about their bodies, rather than the other parts of their personality. The society that we live in already places so much emphasis on appearance, so it’s very difficult, probably impossible, even, to feel positive about your body 100% of the time. The problem with the body positivity movement is the shame, both internal and external, that comes with not always feeling “beautiful.” The totally natural process of fluctuating emotions is labeled as “anti-feminist” or “unsupportive,” which is a very harmful way of thinking. 

A different approach to the problem of restrictive beauty standards is body neutrality. Instead of focusing on emotions, body neutrality focuses on actions, the objective versus the subjective. Body neutrality places the importance on appreciating what your body can do for you, not how it looks, effectively removing appearance from the equation. It preaches that you don’t have to feel attractive to feel good about yourself and that beauty doesn’t equate to worth because how you look shouldn’t matter. Your body does so much for you. It allows you to hug your friends, pet cute animals, eat good food, and most importantly, keeps you alive. Love your body for that, not for how it looks. 

Although the body neutrality movement seems to be a better way to approach modern beauty standards, it can be interpreted as ableist since one of its focuses is on physical ability. However, if we established, culturally, that our bodies do not define us, we would be able to view ourselves and each other for more than our bodies, without being ableist.

Our bodies, regardless of physical ability, do so much for us. The body neutrality movement teaches us to accept what our bodies are and who our bodies allow us to be.

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