31 July 2019
What is Body Neutrality?
It's the latest self-care buzzword, but what exactly is body neutrality?
Maybe you’ve noticed a shift on Instagram in recent months. On what was once a platform for diet culture, perfectly defined abs and swooshy hair, we’re suddenly hearing our favourite influencers shunning fitspo or embracing barefaced life. Sure, they’re still posting the workout videos we love and ‘gramming kale and froyo like they’ll someday cease to exist, but now they’ll tell you when they’re having a rubbish day too.
Amid this shift there’s one hashtag that keeps popping up again and again: #bodyneutrality. But what exactly is body neutrality? Essentially, it's a movement centred on the concept of feeling nothing towards our bodies – well not nothing, exactly – but recognising what our bodies can do, rather than focusing on what they look like.
Different from the idea of self-confidence and celebrating our wobbly bits, it’s also about accepting that you don’t have to love every bit of you and reaching a state where the way that you feel about your body, food choices and exercise have precisely nothing to do with your appearance. In doing so, it removes the emotional pressure to make that shift between self-loathing and self-love, and acts as a more attainable alternative.
Although the term itself has been floating around for a while, it has experienced a resurgence more recently amid a backlash against the idea of ‘body positivity’, which some say has been debased via marketing strategies, and warped from a valid cause centred around inclusivity of underrepresented bodies into an unrealistic catch-all through which already-represented individuals to smile about their cellulite.
Among those rejecting the BOPO tag is PT, trainer and fitness influencer Tally Rye, who was lauded when she recently called out, via her Instagram, two journalists who described her as a body positivity activist: “As a slim white woman, my voice is heard, my body is seen, I am represented. I want the body positivity movement to uplift those who don’t have the privilege I do. Using body positivity to spread my message would be taking the spotlight from those who truly need and deserve it.”
Actress Jameela Jamil, who has been praised for taking a stance against false ideals with her ‘I Weigh’ campaign, has been vocal in her rejection of the BOPO label in favour of neutrality, explaining in an open letter posted to her Twitter: “As an ED survivor with Body Dysmorphia, it has helped me personally, to get away from trying to objectify myself in any way, and just try to focus on other things about myself and my life.”
In reality, it’s sometimes harder said than done to ‘ignore’ how our bodies look. So, how can you practice body neutrality? First, there’s remembering to thank yourself, something Jamil says that she does “all the time”. This could be saying hell yeah to your legs for powering through that two-hour spin session or for smashing a yoga session, but equally, could be thanking your body for just for keeping you breathing.
In her book Beyond Beautiful, a guide to body neutrality, Anuschuka Rees also highlights the need proactive shift away from the traditional worth of beauty: “What you need to do is fix your buggy self-worth barometer and understand that your physical appearance (whether you fit the current beauty ideal or not) is just a single, volatile and not even particularly interesting aspect of yourself.” Ouch – but then, perhaps that’s just the refreshing slapdown we all need.