When I was a teenager in the mid-2010s, I started seeing an uptick of advertising for women and girls to love their bodies at all sizes. “Body positivity” focuses on feeling good about your body and the way it looks and is the product of a social movement for fat liberation that started in the 1960s. It has since developed into a need to “love the skin you’re in” as an act of radical self-acceptance whether you are big or small. For me and many of my friends, it was a refreshing turn from the diet culture we had grown up with, where it seemed anyone over a size 4 was seen as overweight.
But as the years passed, pregnancies and age have changed my body so much that body positivity didn’t seem like the right fit for me anymore. As a woman with a disability with chronic pain, it was especially difficult to love my body when it wouldn’t function or look the way I preferred nine times out of 10. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a few TikTok creators who were referring to a new-to-me term they referred to as “body neutrality.” Body neutrality is a concept that “prioritizes the body’s function, and what the body can do, rather than its appearance,” said body coach Annie Poirier, who helped popularize the term. She wanted to help her clients build a healthier relationship with food and exercise. Here’s why I’m done trying to be “body positive” and moving toward “body neutral.”
1. I can move away from the ableism of body positivity
If you are able bodied, it can be easier to feel love for your body when it functions the way you want it to on the whole. If you have a disability or a chronic health issue that causes significant pain, promoting body positivity can be considered ableist. Many times, the body positivity movement focuses on being “healthy and happy,” and that is simply unattainable for many of us with disabilities, mental illnesses, or chronic health problems.
With the body positivity movement, it can be hurtful to hear those we love and look up to say that “they are fat but healthy” or that they love their body at any size because they have perfect blood tests and can move easily. This often ostracizes those of us with disabilities and who need mobility aids because it makes it seem like we can only love our bodies when they are capable of XYZ. Body neutrality allows me to be at peace with my body when it isn’t capable of doing things healthier individuals can.
2. Less pressure to be positive means less overall stress
With body positivity, I always feel a pressure to love and appreciate my body at all times, but with body neutrality, I feel more freedom to just take care of my body no matter how well it is functioning mentally or physically on a certain day.
If I am dealing with a lot of pain, for example, I am neither upset or happy. I can just give my body the time and care it needs to function. If I need more rest that day or need to call the doctor, I am no longer overwhelmed with the need to be positive about it for the sake of what I was taught I should feel about it. Body neutrality gives me wiggle room to focus on what’s most important, like feeding my body, exercising when I can, and taking care of my mental health without the pressure to smile and be happy.
3. I’m more kind toward my body and others
With body positivity, there has always been a pressure to perform and live up to the expectations of others. If I loved my body, I felt like I needed to prove to others that my body was worthy of love. With body neutrality, I see my body—and others’—as a tool that is different for everybody. It’s neither good nor bad; it’s just something that we all have.
And when you are a mom on the go, it can be really freeing to not have the pressure to be happy with the way you look all the time. Instead, I have a gentle reminder to care for my body so it can get through the day-to-day. It has also been amazing to help share a body-neutrality mindset with friends and family who have been raised in diet culture too. It’s helped me form a support network of women who are taking care of their bodies’ needs rather than dieting or focusing on ways to change the way their bodies look.