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Body Positivity vs Body Neutrality: What Should The Body Positivity Movement Really Mean?

6th October 2021

6th October 2021

By Beth Shelper

In a recent mental health survey that we conducted here at Innermost HQ, our the results of the survey revealed that only 44% of our respondents noted ‘Yes’ to the question “do you feel comfortable with your body right now?”. Less than half. That’s not a good result, and it’s something that we have to address.

Societal values and body image: are they linked?

Here at Innermost, we strive daily to create a community that values health, wellness and happiness through our exercise, nutrition and mental health. But we are all too aware that unfortunately, not everyone holds these values.

This begs the question, is this because of societal pressures, our endless social media feeds and the media?

We think these elements have a good influence, that’s for sure. The pressures of feeling like you need to look a certain way, or wear certain fashions, follow certain trends, and conform to societal ideals are definitely not going anywhere, and their harmful aftereffects are clearly being felt. The 44% statistic screams that. 

Whilst you shouldn’t have to feel good about yourself all the time (as this just adds to the pressure, too), the results to our survey make us question… is the body positivity movement really a positive one? Or should we be pushing body neutrality, instead? Is acceptance what we should be striving for, rather than positivity? It can be a bit of a minefield. 

Body neutrality vs body positivity is one of the biggest areas of debate and discussion in the media, and we wanted to weigh in on this discussion, too.

Understanding ideals and our perception of body image

When it comes to understanding 'ideals' in terms of appearance, it's important to be mindful that this is very much a personal and emotional topic. And this is where the body neutrality vs body positivity debate comes in.

Whilst it is a largely controversial topic, it's definitely one that needs to be addressed, and should no longer be taboo. Here at Innermost, we wholeheartedly agree that health and happiness go hand in hand. We’re here to show you the facts.

So, what is the body positivity movement? What is body neutrality? What does it all mean, and how do I know whether I'm saying the 'right' thing? We’re here to break it all down. But to do this, firstly we must understand what the concept of ‘body image’ really is.

What do we mean by the term ‘body image’

Whether positive, neutral, or negative, body image is a topic that has been endlessly debated, discussed, and analysed over recent years, particularly with the growth in popularity of social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. Users are constantly inundated with a portrayal of fashion, success and beauty, and these portrayals can have a huge impact on body image. 

But how?

The definition of ‘body image’ is a widely debated one. Broadly defined as the way in which you see yourself “when you look in the mirror”, body image doesn't just refer to weight.

A person’s body image is deeply linked to their emotional attitude toward the way they look, and this attitude is often influenced by these external factors that we have discussed. All in all, a person's body image is an end result that has been contributed to by things such as comparisons with friends, features such as birthmarks and scars, feeling invalidated by under-representation, and many, many more. And this is where internalisations of the discussed unattainable 'ideals', images and portrayals introduced by external medias can lead to 'negative' body image. Unfortunately, because of these, what one person may see or believe to be a body image ideal is very different to another.

Enter... the body positive movement. 

What is the body positivity movement?

In an attempt to squash these feelings of inadequacy, the body positive movement was born. 

Put simply, the body positivity movement is the assertion that all people deserve to have a positive body image of themselves, regardless of how you se yourself, how others see you, and how you believe that you 'should' look in response to societal pressures.

Now somewhat of a buzzword (along with the use of the abbreviation #BOPO across social channels), the body positive movement was first introduced all the way back in the 1960s and has been used ever since in a bid to rid the idea that everyone should strive to look one, certain way. The body positive movement wants you to feel good about yourself (and every single part of yourself) all the time. No cares given. 

What is the body neutrality movement?

In short, body neutrality refers to the idea that as an individual, you accept your body in the current state that it is. No ifs. No buts. And that’s just how it is. The body neutrality movement rejects the idea of the body positive movement, and was designed to relive the pressure perhaps introduced by #BOPO to feel good about yourself all of the time. 

The body neutrality movement is just about being happy in your skin and knowing that your body is just that, your body. Your body serves its purpose, it keeps you healthy, allows you to live the life you live, and is your home. And that’s what you should appreciate it as.

The body neutrality movement is one that exists to encourage people to just have a perspective on yourself that isn’t positive or negative, just neutral. It maintains the ideology that we should just accept our body as just that: a body. A body that keeps you alive and functions like everybody else’s. But is this the ideal that we should aspire to? Is it an ideal, at all? Is this perhaps easier than body positivity? Should we just not care?

Many argue that body neutrality is the way to go, as the body positivity movement seemingly ignores the hardships of being an overweight or underweight person in society, and the discrimination that sometimes comes with this. Why should someone see it as a positive thing that someone is overweight if it means that they may receive harmful remarks thrown at them in the street?

These arguments, sides and difficulties make it hard to know how to approach body image.

So, which do we go with?

Body neutrality vs body positivity

So the differences are clear. Body neutrality claims we should strive to accept our body’s as functioning beings, and just that. Body positivity states that we should not just accept our bodies but celebrate them. Show them off. Be unashamed.

But which, as a society, should we strive for? Is acceptance enough? Or should we feel happy with our bodies, 24/7?

Summary

Overweight doesn’t mean unhealthy. Underweight doesn’t either, or being slim. But it can mean that, too. Whatever size or weight we are, the healthiest mindset to have is one that accepts our body however it appears. We don’t need to talk about weight unless there is a health issue involved. The idea that weight is a subject of aesthetic is one that needs to be eradicated. Only then can we strive towards acceptance and positivity.

Talking about your body image and mental health 

It’s important to note that if you feel that you are struggling with your body image and your perception of yourself, this is entirely normal. You don’t have to suffer alone and opening up a conversation around this topic is the first step to approaching a healthier, happier mindset. This conversation may be with a trusted friend, relative, colleague or guardian, or if you feel like you’re not in a place to talk to anyone that is immediately in your life, that’s okay, too. There are plenty of people that understand how you feel, and a whole world of resources to help you navigate these feelings.

Check out our Top 8 Mental Health Apps that can help you with your body image, including the below:

If you’re unsure how to approach a topic that contains sensitive information about your mental health, we recently spoke with Katie Sprang, a mental health professional, to get her tips and insight on opening conversations around mental health.

Reach out to us at Innermost if you ever need a helping hand. We’d love to hear from you. Look after yourselves, Innermosters!

References

  • The Guardian. 2021. ‘Body positivity’ has had its day. Let’s find peace with ourselves. [online] Click here.

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