OP-ED: Self-image neutrality or positivity?

Many agree that at times, it feels impossible to love one’s physical appearance and maintain a solely positive body image. The body positivity movement states that one should always positively perceive their body, despite any aspects that society dictates as flawed. This movement, especially amidst an abundance of oppressive beauty standards, is unrealistic. Practicing body neutrality is a healthier, more realistic alternative to truly appreciate oneself.

Body neutrality is a movement of pure self-acceptance that strays away from using body positivity. In a The Conversation article, author Viren Swami explained that “the aim (of body neutrality) is to exist within your body without judgement or holding strong opinions about how you look.” Holding no extreme opinion about the bodies of oneself and others evokes acceptance of the current state of all bodies, with no pressure to hate, love or change one’s appearance.

Body neutrality also promotes cherishing a body’s purpose and performance. Although appreciating physical parts of one’s body can be uplifting – for example, telling oneself their legs are slim and attractive – determining self-worth based upon physical value can become toxic. Practicing body neutrality offers a healthier avenue of admiration, in which one would instead show gratitude for their legs’ ability to help them do the things they love.

Practicing body neutrality also means avoiding comments that point out one’s physical body. Complimenting someone’s “skinny” figure, for example, may be intended to uplift; however, for someone struggling with disordered eating or maintaining a healthy and positive perception of themself, this comment can be harmful and regressive. Instead, a comment made through a body-neutral lens means complimenting aspects of one’s personality, behavior or style, which Swami noted, “encourages us to step back from conversations about our bodies and appearance, which in turn frees us to do the things we enjoy.”

A body-positive mindset may mean telling oneself, “I love my legs, despite their cellulite.” A body-neutral mindset means telling oneself, “I accept the appearance of my legs and appreciate them for their ability to help me win my soccer game,” which does not recognize any supposed flawed parts of one’s appearance and puts focal positivity on valuing how one’s body helps them experience a happy life.