If you have struggled with body image at any time in your life, you’re not alone. According to one survey, 97 percent amount of women are unhappy with their bodies and a recent study reported that 1 in 2 women are more concerned with how they look since the start of the pandemic.
Another survey indicated that 20 to 40 percent of men struggle with body image issues as well. Maybe this news isn’t surprising, but it should be concerning. With all the significant challenges that people have been facing the last two years, the fact that body image is a primary stressor for many should raise the alarm that this remains a significant issue and one that needs addressing.
Why do we struggle with body image?
Consider some of the elements that impact body image. First there are family norms around body image and how you were raised to think about your body. Next, today’s society both centers—and is heavily influenced by—models and celebrities that tend to be one-sized. Then there are societal expectations, which, despite changing throughout the years, continue to create a binary sense of good and bad body types. And of course, there is the impact of social media, where photo editing and filters abound and reality becomes blurred.
With all these sources influencing perception of body image, how can people shift to having a better relationship with their bodies? The body positive movement started in the 1960’s by an organization today known as NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance). Body positivity sounds like a great thing, and in many ways it is. After all, loving your body is better than hating it, right?
On the other hand, some would argue that telling people to love their bodies in a society that idealizes thin bodies, puts the responsibility on the shoulders of the individuals with marginalized body types—versus demanding a change from society to address weight stigma. Additional criticism comes from the argument that body positivity continues to place too much emphasis on appearance.
Enter the concept of body neutrality.
What is body neutrality?
The term “body neutrality” was first coined in 2015 by Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor Anne Poirer, in her book The Body Joyful. In the last few years it has caught the attention of clinicians and social media influencers alike.
At its core, body neutrality is a shift from “What does my body look like?” to “What can my body do?” Body neutrality focuses on functionality, from our vital organs keeping us alive to our skeletal and muscular systems keeping us moving.
In their book More than Body, authors Dr. Lexie and Lindsay Kite describe this as thinking of your body as an instrument, not an ornament. Additionally, body neutrality aims to take the pressure off of trying to love your body, a feat which seems unattainable to many, and instead promotes respect for your body for what it allows you to do each day. Some research indicates that for transgender and non-binary individuals, body neutrality offers a more realistic goal than loving your body.
For example, instead of, “I hate my legs.” Think: “My legs allow me to get from one place to the next.” Instead of, “I hate my arms.” Think: “ My arms are strong and can hold my child safely.”
How do we work on cultivating body neutrality?
Activity. Move in ways that are joyful! Find your Fit by moving in a way that feels good for you and your body. Maybe that’s building endurance with heart pumping workouts or perhaps that’s building balance and strength with yoga.
Change your target from a number on the scale to increasing your strength and endurance.
Listen to your body by checking out your Readiness Score.
Nutrition. Break free from diet culture and fuel your body with a focus on function. Try adding foods that your body wants to support your auto-immune, cardiovascular, brain health, and more.
Connect with mindful eating, and learn to eat intuitively.
Sleep. Sleep can have an impact on mood and body image. Prioritize healthy habits that improve the quality of your sleep.
Stress and mindfulness. Learn to experience a reduction of stress when you are free from unrealistic expectations.
You can also experience a reduction in stress when you are free from comparisons and feeling more comfortable in your own skin.
Experience mindfully enjoying the present moment free from distraction about how one looks.
Body neutrality is not perfect and certainly not a quick fix. We live in a world that doesn’t have neutral views and is instead very opinionated about body types and so it can be a challenge to make this shift in mindset. It’s also a relatively new concept, and there is a lot more room for thought and growth on the subject.
But for many, body neutrality can be a valuable framework to find freedom from self-disparaging thoughts and preoccupation with appearance, and move forward with a healthier relationship with their body.
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