With one click on TikTok, we are flooded with videos of size 0 figures, hourglass body workout routines, and unrealistic ‘what I eat in a day’ vlogs. Although social media platforms began as innocent tools for communication, toxic body standards have taken a direct toll on the mental well-being of young social-media users.
In response to fatphobic mentalities, body positivity movements have sprouted across the world in attempts to challenge discrimination against plus-size individuals. However, the rise in these progressive movements is not as perfect as we may think.
Body Positivity: Not Picture Perfect
The birth of the body positivity movement began from an engineer in 1969 who felt troubled by the treatment of his plus-size wife. For decades, body positivity has been focused on affirming all body types, regardless of their physical capabilities. Although the core of the movement holds good intentions, it merely places an increased emphasis on physical appearance. Saying popular mantras like “Your body is beautiful” and “Feel confident in your body” are still centered on the way someone looks, sending an implied message that looks truly do matter just that much. The body positivity movement fails to take into account the multifaceted nature of any person, such as their mind, spirit, and morals, while choosing to hyperfixate on outward appearance. Notably, our body is only a small portion of what makes us unique, autonomous beings – a concept glossed over by the body positivity movement.
Aside from body positivity’s hyperfixation on outward appearance, the movement glorifies the reality of obesity. Empirical evidence suggests that obesity increases one’s likelihood of being diagnosed with other chronic diseases, such as Type 2 Diabetes. Poor immune systems and malnutrition can stem from being underweight. Unfortunately, a widespread movement that preaches body acceptance glosses over the health hazards that come along with an unhealthy weight and subtly discourages treatment to change the current state of one’s body. After all, by definition of the body positivity movement, each person should simply “accept their body as is.”
Despite efforts by body positivity enthusiasts to promote self-love, these endeavors can actually be harmful to the mental health of plus-size women. Founder of GRRRL clothing Kortney Olson states that “Outwardly stating to our community that we are ‘body positive’ can make us feel like frauds on those days where we might not have such a loving outlook on our body.” When unwavering positivity becomes the norm, those who are having a mental “off-day” feel an exorbitant amount of distress for not remaining positive. For people in a constant battle with body dysmorphia, the unrealistic confidence levels perpetuated by the body positivity movement end up burdening those it once intended to help.
It is time that our society turns toward a much healthier alternative: body neutrality.
Credit photo: Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou
A Healthier Alternative
Following mass criticism of the body positivity movement, an alternative social movement was formulated by dietitians, celebrities, and fitness instructors: body neutrality. Unlike body positivity, body neutrality is not appearance-based. Rather, it focuses on the capabilities of your body as a vessel and what it can do for you, as opposed to physical characteristics. Body neutrality emphasizes neither a love nor hatred for one’s body, which creates space for an individual to still recognize ways to improve their physical health while simultaneously appreciating the functions of their body. Instead of deeming each body as perfect, body neutrality promotes a neutral approach towards fitness and health goals. Body neutrality is the difference between “my body is beautiful” and “my body is beautiful for doing this.” Body neutrality is the difference between “I look good today” and “I can do good things today.”
Practices of body neutrality are embedded in the everyday ways we choose to treat ourselves. Next time, listen to the physical and mental needs of your body and remove talk of body image from your conversations. Realize that hating the way you look one day is only human, but make the active decision to move on and appreciate each little thing your body can still do for you. Reframe your conversations from a focus on physique to a focus on the countless beautiful things we are capable of doing.
At the end of the day, no one should be under constant pressure to love their body, but to simply accept it as the vehicle that enables us to maneuver life and enjoy each day. While the catchphrases of body positivity mean well, no one can force themselves to find love that does not exist. When our society progressively centers discourse around neutrality and diverts the limelight away from physical characteristics, we may begin to find peace with our body as a vessel rather than a tool for validation.
Written by Sophia Li
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