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The body positivity movement prioritizes loving your body and seeking confidence within it but, put simply, it doesn’t work for many people. The idea of ​​feeling overwhelmingly positive about your body may seem inauthentic, as there is no flip that can be changed simply to start loving your body and rejecting any negativity you may have that may be deeply ingrained and strengthened by society . Forcing yourself to suppress negative feelings in favor of self-love can work as a form of oppression and even erasure. Body neutrality offers an alternative point of view, which focuses on appreciation and acceptance, with no values ​​or judgments included.

In the latest episode of The Well + Good Podcast, I discuss with host Taylor Camille ways body neutrality can support us on this journey of acceptance and appreciation. Body neutrality, a more recent term that started popping up online around 2015, aims to de-focus on appearance and instead emphasize function without placing any positive or negative value on it. The concept holds that we should neither love nor hate our body, but rather recognize it for what it allows us to do.

The need to move away from body positivity and the control over one’s body it can support comes amid criticisms for the concept being divorced from its historical roots. It began in the 1960s with fat, black, queer women resisting discrimination in public and professional spaces.

Now, searches for #bodypositivity on various social media platforms often yield images of people featuring women who fit mainstream beauty standards and, therefore, have not experienced social exclusion due to their size, skin color, or other physical components that could be associated with marginalization or exclusion.

Additionally, the body-neutral or liberation-focused approach offers room for people who may not aspire to positivity and may feel like a more accessible and realistic path to self-acceptance. Below, I describe how you can work towards adopting a body-neutral perspective.

5 practices to help you embrace the concept of body neutrality

1. Recognize why accepting your body has been so difficult

Most of us have learned to approach our bodies as entities that require management. For some, that means trying to tame them by depriving them of their desires. For others it might mean trying to manage them with an exercise that encourages them to stay within a mold instead of taking up space outside these restrictive lines.

When we think about what we are eating or not eating and how we are in our bathing suits, we arent thinking about the oppressive sources that made us question ourselves to keep buying products and programs to fix us. In these self-critical moments, we are raging against ourselves instead of the systems that have told us that being small and pleasing to others gains us social acceptance and security. (It’s a concept fitness coach Chrissy King explores in her new book, Liberating the Body: How Understanding Racism and Diet Culture Helps Cultivate Joy and Build Collective Freedom.)

2. Differentiate between accepting your body and appreciating it

Acceptance is the recognition of what is. It’s about sticking to the facts. While body positivity can encourage judgments like I love my curves and body shaming can include statements like if I look gross, body neutrality is about observing without making any value claims.

For example, you might say my lips are round or my nipples are pink. Alternatively, you may choose to focus more on what your body parts allow you to do, like my legs helped me walk to work, my hands created this delicious meal, my butt allows me to sit for hours reading my favorite book, my stomach carried my baby. These are made without any positive or negative value inclusions.

3. Identify body neutral affirmations that feel true and right for you

Body neutrality is about avoiding one size fits all approaches to acceptance and instead understanding what is uniquely true for you. To do this, create custom statements like my body has helped me or I can honor my body or I accept these body parts today. Identifying such mantras can help you start changing the way you are used to being in your body.

4. Remember that this is an evolving practice

With body neutrality, one does not reach the pinnacle. It’s about recognizing yourself without judging yourself. This may take time and energy to change how you relate to your body, and it’s an ongoing practice as you go through life.

5. Expect and plan for the fight

When you notice critical thoughts arising, instead of focusing inward and following the typical control trajectory, look outward and ask yourself what or who is working on me right now? Are these critical thoughts coming from an oppressive institution, a family member, a doctor I went to? Are these my ideas about myself or about someone else that I have internalized?

It can also be helpful to rely on your community, whose members may share values ​​with you. These people can help you recognize that voice without believing it or giving it credit by sharing their voices of support.

To learn more about the value of embracing body neutrality and liberation, listen to the full podcast episode here.

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