Undressing Body Neutrality

Undressing Body Neutrality

Wherever you live, heading to the beach has its highs and lows. Beaches covered in people barring skin can invoke feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness. Bodies of any identity are held to certain standards, and these standards are often rooted in colonialism. Colonial beauty standards have equated whiteness and thinness with beauty. In turn, larger bodies and bodies of colour are systematically discriminated against. Aligning European features with the western beauty standard worked as another pathway to exert power. The way these standards are reinforced in every aspect of our lives can leave long-term negative impacts on our perceptions of our bodies. From television to advertisements, we are constantly being informed of the beauty standard. This standard often reinforces the false idea that thinness equates to having a valuable body. Even the people who we collectively allow to become famous and exist in the forefront of our media have often been chosen based on how closely they align with the Eurocentric beauty standard. 

As a young child at the beach, when I was unable to think critically about media and what messages I was being sent, the media had not tainted how I perceived myself. All I cared for was how long I could hold a handstand in the water, the possibility of encountering a fish, and whether my mom packed snacks. As I grew older, my body fluctuated in size to support itself. Consequently, the beach had lost its appeal. Instead of being a spot where I could retreat from the concrete city, the beach turned into the place where I felt my body was going to be most criticized. This experience is fairly universal, and often referenced in conversations surrounding body positivity. 

The body positivity movement attempts to work in response to feelings of insecurity or negativity by guiding individuals to simply feel positive and loving towards their bodies. This movement has been complicated by contrasting notions of what body positivity means. Current discourse within the body positivity movement is often fraught with conflicting ideas. I personally have found notions of body positivity to be too far out of reach. Common body positive statements follow the message that body image is only a matter of the mind, and one can overcome their body image issues using affirmations and positive thinking. Body image conflicts may have sprouted from a variety of places, one being mass media and the perpetuation of the colonial beauty standard. Without dismantling the way in which bodies are valued based on racist and fatphobic standards, body image issues cannot be widely alleviated. While I should feel positive about my body, self-directed body-positive affirmations can feel like lies.

Our brains are wired to reinforce our own thoughts. This can create negative feedback loops.  Our bodies become an easy target for negative self-talk when we feel as though they are on display. Deciphering the gap between the images of beauty in media and my own body became an innate response to viewing the clear blueprint of the western beauty standard. The beauty standard largely works to uphold power for those it benefits, utilizing human bodies as weapons. At the bare minimum, bodies are not supposed to look a certain way. They should be appreciated for fulfilling your needs, even if they require some extra help sometimes. Bodies do not appear the same through childhood, your teenage years, or any other period of your life. As we grow older, our bodies adapt to fulfill their needs, which involve many changes including our weight and how we carry it.  

For many including myself, body neutrality has proven itself to be far more accessible than body positivity. Body neutrality is not about how your body looks in a swimsuit or how much you are able to lift, but instead of celebrating the way our bodies keep us alive and allow our hearts to keep beating. Similar to many movements, this one is not without its conflicts. Some body neutrality discourse has ableist implications. Some disabled bodies cannot complete the same functions as abled bodies, so the implication that function is akin to value can exclude some disabled people. In truth, the concept of body neutrality is not about what services your body can provide, such as how long you can walk or how far you are able to physically extend yourself. It is simply about understanding that your body is keeping you alive, and that is enough.

Body neutrality offers an easier, internal approach towards mending my relationship with my body. It places value on the fact that it keeps us alive rather than focusing on its appearance. Body positivity requires positive affirmations that can sometimes feel a little out of reach. Telling myself that my body is beautiful or perfect while my internal monologue is saying the opposite feels like asking the pendulum to swing too far. Neutral thinking allowed me to decenter the way I thought my body should look, and instead prioritize celebrating the way it fulfills my needs.

Despite the way I may not have always taken the best care of my body, it will keep my heart beating and allow me to take another breath. When I look back on the photos I took or listen to a song that I used to play, I won’t remember how I felt ill about my body. Instead, I will remember the happy moments I captured and the beautiful memories associated with each song. I was only able to enjoy these times because my heart kept beating and my body kept me alive. 

Body neutrality has allowed me to figure out what should matter and what shouldn’t. The way others perceive my body, the number on the scale, and whether I can fit into a certain size is not nearly as important as my livelihood. Deprioritizing physical appearance is an ongoing process. While I couldn’t truthfully say that the way I look is no longer a concern of mine, body neutrality has eased my mind in ways the body positivity movement never did. Remembering that my body keeps me going grounds me back into the idea that the appearance of my body is far less important than its ability to keep me alive. The next time you worry about the way your body looks at the beach, try taking a moment to appreciate all it does for you.

HEADER IMAGE CREDIT: PINTEREST

 

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