BODY IMAGE: let’s focus on neutrality
Post-Easter sugar withdrawals and chocolate hangovers are a real thing. And what familiar feelings accompany this time? Of course, the unsettling internal distress that our bodies are experiencing change. Commonly known as negative body image. Which is definitely not just an Easter thing or a seasonal thing, it’s a human being thing, and it’s exhausting.
As a woman who has experienced feeling completely consumed by the powerful grip of negative body image. I’ve come to learn that living this way lacks freedom, it limits your joy and it thrives on compromise. This wasn’t a life I was willing to settle for. I have pieced together this article in hope of helping you find some comfort and contentment in what may seem like an never ending journey.
For this discussion, I consider body image to be, how you personally experience your embodiment. It is more than a mental picture of what you look like, your body image consists of your personal relationship with your body, encompassing your perceptions, beliefs, thoughts, feelings and sanctions that pertain to your physical appearance.
Why is it that the fear of our body changing can be so consuming? Just accept your body, better yet, love it! Join the body positivity movement and love your body at any size or shape. Sounds simple right?
Asking me to simply love my body, after a glorious holiday of indulgence is like telling me to run a marathon barefoot. Outrageous! Why would I be able to do that if I haven’t been given the skills or tools I need. We as women are told to accept our bodies at all shapes and sizes but also are repeatedly choked with messages (subliminal or otherwise) of ideal beauty. Not sure about you, but in my eyes, body positivity feels counter productive.
I truly applaud the women who have the ability to own their bodies and flaunt their figure in every shape, at every size - you are an absolute superstar. However, my experience is that the movement lacks awareness for the scale of women and where their starting point is. I have felt resistance towards the movement because I’ve felt that I lacked the skills to participate, I haven’t had the courage or willpower necessary. Which in turn makes me dislike my body more because I felt I was incapable of making that shift. Whether it’s intentional or not, I don’t desire to be a part of a movement that discriminates against the demographic that it is literally trying to support.
I’d like to highlight, when I talk about low or negative body image, I’m not exclusively discussing weight. We all have our own body insecurities and they could be about the size of our bust, the shape of our shoulders or the way our skin looks, the texture of our hair, anything! We all have our own things and they are all valid. It is also completely okay to not love your body, you’re not doing anything wrong you’re just being honest. What’s not useful is to mull in that feeling endlessly and allow it to dictate how to interact with other areas of your life and more importantly influence the state of your internal world. Your sense of self worth, of self-belief, of course your relationship with yourself.
For so many of us, our perception of how we appear day to day and how we feel about our ever changing body dictates so much of our life. Our emotions, thoughts, decisions and feelings are dependent on the stability of something that is ultimately unstable. Experiencing low body image is the result of living in a society where worth has been attached to physical image. Love, acceptance, happiness - many of us, if not all of us, believe on some level we must physically present a certain way to feel we are worthy of these human desires.
It feels ridiculous that the society that has forced me to dislike my body, disown it, speak horrible words to it, ignore, disrespect, and abandon it time and time again is telling me to simply accept myself and love myself, this messaging is confusing and unhelpful. It is not our fault that society has made us dislike ourselves and then left us to work out how to climb our way back to self love.
No one was born with poor body images issues. This was something we learned, which means, it is something that can be unlearned. It’s a practice that requires work and patience. This work can’t be rushed, you can’t rush your healing, you can skip important steps. I mean you can, but inevitability if you haven’t laid the foundations, the same issues and repeated behaviours will return.
Our culture loves to take the short cut, we love to distract ourselves from the work that actually needs to be done in order to evolve and grow out of our old ways. The jump to self-love is a bad-aid, it skip’s the middle steps. You can’t skip the journey to get to the destination. We need to do the work and meet ourselves in the middle. How do we do that? It’s called body neutrality and it’s better than a caramilk bunny.
Body neutrality is a philosophy that focuses on what your body can do for you rather than what it looks like. For people who find loving their appearance 24/7 impossible, body neutrality is a more helpful mindset to feel peace. In a lot of ways body positivity still has an emphasis on the appearance of the physical body. Body neutrality is a side step from that. It is a focus on function, learning to become present and aware of how your body actually feels, what it actually needs.
The goal of body neutrality is to not be occupied, preoccupied or defined by our appearance. The following two statements outline the difference between body positivity and body neutrality.
‘I feel good about myself because I know I am physically beautiful.’
‘I feel good about myself because I listened to my body and did gentle exercise this week.’
In body neutrality we focus on the areas where we can reason with ourselves - how we speak to ourselves, our language, and challenge what thoughts and feelings we intercept.
To me, body neutrality has been a safe harbour between body hatred and body love. It is a commitment to challenging our old body image beliefs. When you are neutral, you mindfully tolerate, accept your body without judgement. Unlike body acceptance, it is a practise, not a place.
There are 9 phases of body neutrality. Hatred → Dissatisfaction → Tolerance → indifference → respect → gratitude → acceptance → Like → Love. All steps are important, and this process is by no means linear.
Liking and loving your body becomes a bi-product of body neutrality, it is not the aim but once reaching the harbour it becomes easier to reach further. It is exhausting trying to love our bodies all the time, just as is it exhausting hating your body all the time. Aim for tolerance.
A great starting point is learning what is your body image story?
“I’d be more attractive if i…”
“If i could lose weight, I’d be happy, successful, loveable”
“My worth is determined by my appearance”
“ if I just had longer hair,, my life will start…”
It’s about something bigger than “i don’t like how my thighs look today”. The goal is to know yourself so well that when these things come up, we know how to unpack them, and be aware of the healthy ways in which I can soothe ourselves. Most importantly, the movement doesn’t want you to berate yourself on the days where you don’t feel like loving any part of yourself.
Another crucial step in this journey is being aware of, and then rewriting our internal dialogue. When speaking to ourselves repeatedly with derogatory and demeaning language, we begin to believe it as fact. So get in the habit of calling yourself out, and shifting your phrasing, because our energy and thoughts manifest physically.
For example, if you’ve got thighs which are larger than a size 8, we often refer to them as ‘fat’. Now, we’re going to park the fact that the word ‘fat’ is not a verb and focus on the context in which it is used. Try rephrasing the way in which you view your thighs, for example, Rachael the founder of MARVELL LANE started referring to her thighs/butt/breasts as ‘juicy’. She says that “the simple process of doing this, re-phrasing one word has allowed me to stare at my curvier thighs in the mirror for about 2 seconds and then move on. I can do this and not feel anything and that NEVER used to happen.”
There is no sugar coating this, growth isn’t supposed to be easy, but getting to know yourself on a deep level and alleviating some of the subconscious suffering we put upon ourselves is more than a breath of fresh air, its freedom and we are all deserving and worthy of that.
*** I would like to recognise that my experience is different from someone of another race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or physical/mental ability. I acknowledge that I write this article as a white, cis female and with that comes a level of privilege but also a limited level of lived experiences. We value all voices and experiences.***