The other day I was talking with a client about body image. She said to me “it’s just really hard to love parts of my body sometimes.” I agreed. Even when we try to “love all our imperfections,” it’s still indicating that we have undesirable features we have to force ourselves to love. That doesn’t have to be the case.
So I said: “What if we stopped forcing ourselves to love the parts of our bodies that we just simply don’t? What if we worked for body neutrality instead?” Lightbulb.
There are a lot of great movements that promote self-love. However, it’s not always easy to practice when we live in a society that idolizes thin, fit bodies and reminds us that our flaws should be and can be fixed. And then there are diets being disguised as “lifestyles” but still tell you what you should and shouldn’t eat. And weight loss programs relabeled as “wellness” tells you in order to be well, you must be a certain size. These mixed messages are dangerous and can be misunderstood as “love your body, but only if it looks a certain way.”
What is Body Neutrality?
It’s difficult trying to change your entire mindset to loving your body when you’ve been at war with it for so long. Body neutrality is about shifting away from self-hate and critiquing our bodies without forcing ourselves to love all parts of our bodies. It’s about getting to respecting our bodies without focusing on the negative thoughts. We don’t have to love or hate our bodies. We can work towards accepting them just as they are.
When we focus on neutrality instead of forcing love, we’re able to remove that added stress and worry. We can make room for things that actually bring us joy and happiness. So how do we begin practicing “body neutrality?”
Values are our personal judgments about what’s most important to us in life. They are our principles and standards of why we do the things we do. When we uncover our values, it helps us see where our energy and focus should be. It helps us make decisions that are aligned with the life we really want to be living.
When we observe parts of our bodies that society tells us are undesirable, we can instead shift our attention to the things that mean the most to us. For example, whenever I observe my rolls and squishy parts, I might have a judgmental thought. But then I remind myself of all the things that are more important to me than a flat stomach and thigh gap.
“I see you, soft parts. You’re okay! What I value most is spending time with friends and family, not restricting myself anymore and celebrating life with food, drinks, travel, trying new things. I value living my life to its fullest. Worrying about how I look to others is no longer important. I will always choose my dream life over my dream body.“
Focus on your values and what’s really truly important to you in life over negative body observation.
Gratitude has been scientifically proven to rewire our brain patterns to focus on the good in life. It helps us to focus on everything that we’ve accomplished instead of all the things we haven’t. Practicing gratitude for what our bodies do for us can help us take our focus off how we look and shift our energy to focusing on how we feel, what our body does for us, how she keeps us alive, how she heals us, comforts us and lets us know what’s wrong and what is right.
“Hey there, thighs. I love how strong you are for all the activities and movement I enjoy. You allow me to seek adventure and seek places that I wouldn’t have without you.”
Focusing on gratitude is how we begin to shift from forcing love to embracing body neutrality.
There is nothing easy about undoing an entire lifetime of believing that our bodies need to look a certain way in order for us to be happy. We’re used to working against our body for so long, restricting, counting, weighing, critiquing. It can feel overwhelming and resistant! Compassion helps us ease into changing our thoughts and beliefs about our bodies. I like to think about compassion as my best friend who comforts me when I’m having an off day. She’s always encouraging, comforting and appreciates all the work I put towards my own happiness. When we fall off track or stumble into old habits (which we will!), compassion helps us be less judgmental of ourselves and learn from our failures so we can get back up again and keep going.
“Wow, today was not my best, and that’s okay. Bad days don’t determine my worth. What did I learn today that will help me be better tomorrow?”
Body neutrality gives us peace to just be as we are. It allows us to stop worrying about fixing the parts of us that are natural, like cellulite, rolls and squishiness. To stop wasting time and energy trying to shrink ourselves to look like the unrealistic body types that society and diet culture idolize. Body neutrality allows us to focus on doing things in life that actually bring us joy and happiness. It releases the pressure we put on ourselves: if we don’t love our bodies, then we’re doing something wrong. It untangles the confusion around “what does my body have to look like in order to love it?”
We don’t have to love everything about our bodies, but we don’t have to hate them either. Instead, let’s just be as we are so we can focus on the joys in life.