Is Neutrality The Way To Go?

Body image. If there is anything in life that puts Hollywood’s brightest superstars and awkward, acne-ridden high schoolers onto the same playing field, it’s the innate need to be obsessed over the appearance of their bodies. At some point or another, we’ve all gotten out of bed just to look into the bathroom mirror and think, “I hate the way I look.” Despite our negative perceptions of ourselves, we are all now given a chance for redemption by the mighty hand of the messiah of the modern age: social change. The body positivity movement has allowed the world to open its eyes to a new way of looking at itself, both figuratively and literally. You shouldn’t have to worry because you’re breaking out in acne again or because you’re not as muscular as the kid in your grade that posts their shirtless self on Instagram every other day, like a Generation Z reincarnation of Narcissus. Body positivity is about loving yourself and your appearance because it is part of your unique identity and reflects your confidence and freedom of self-expression. Despite this heartwarming message, one may have to ask: is this sort of mentality the best? Is it healthy to bring upon forced positivity for someone who is highly insecure about their bodies? Could I love my body so much that I become a Gen Z Narcissus?

 The “Body Positivity” movement began in the ’60s, when people started to become more tolerant of larger body types. It was associated with “The Fat Rights Movement,” whose goal was to stop the mistreatment of overweight women in all aspects of their lives. They wanted clothing brands to be more size-inclusive and for the everyday judgment and harassment to stop. As television and magazines became more popularized, they also fought for more size-inclusive ads to be shown. In more recent years, this fight has been taken over by NAAFA, The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. The movement is now a way for celebrities, teens, and people of all sizes, shapes, genders, sexes, sexualities, and races to celebrate the love they have for their bodies. 

Some societal progress has been because of the body positivity movement, but it has also brought up other issues entirely. The #bodypositive quickly turned into an environment for discourse about whether you should be positive about something “unhealthy.”.Like Lizzo, celebrities are thriving in their body positivity yet are patronized for “promoting obesity.” This particular phrase is both offensive to the person in the photo but can be pretty ironic. In reality, you can’t tell if someone is healthy based on their weight and it does not at all take into account the dozens of medical conditions that prevent people from losing weight/cause them to gain weight. So, they end up dismissing one person’s potential health for the theoretical effect that these photos will cause the next generation to be overweight, but this is another discussion in itself. Speaking of another discussion, the movement also tends to only truly praise one body type, which ends up further marginalizing the bodies of people who aren’t of direct European descent because they are naturally built differently. Those who aren’t being condemned for posting photos of themselves being happy with their bodies are simply not able to fall in love with their figure. That is where body neutrality comes in. 

Jameela Jamil, an activist, actor, and television personality is credited with coining the term “body neutrality.” She has suffered from eating disorders and body dysmorphia in the past, so she has had a lot of trouble trying to “fall in love” with her body’s looks. She advises others to start thanking their bodies for keeping them alive instead of staring into a mirror, thinking about everything it lacks. Many people are starting to agree that this path is easier and feels better for their mental health. When asked about why body positivity doesn’t work for her, she says, “My body image held me back a lot in my life and that’s because I was trained for it to do so by society, by media, by magazines, by people at school, by my family even. I can’t do body positivity because it takes up still too much of my time!” 

Online magazine, Byrdie neatly summarizes body neutrality as “the idea that you can exist without having to think too much about your body one way or another, positive or negative. You can simply exist and be worthy of respect without thinking about your body at all. Or, feeling good about it one day and not as good about it the next.” 

Slowly, the idea of body neutrality is becoming more widespread and appreciated. Those who suffer from eating disorders, body dysmorphia, other conditions, or even are simply self-conscious have something to settle in that isn’t love or hate, so they can focus on becoming healthier. It’s becoming normal to not be as in love with yourself as Narcissus but to simply be content with being alive and having respect for your body. Sure, you may be breaking out again, or sure, you could be more muscular, but that’s totally okay. You don’t need to feel obligated to think your body is flawless, but you should appreciate that you’re here and you exist, regardless of what the bag of flesh you exist within is shaped like.