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Why Body Neutrality Is The Most Inclusive Movement For All Women
Individuals heavily active on social media have likely come across the body positivity movement on their feeds. Body positivity, which has recently surged over the last few years, has effectively challenged society’s rigid beauty norms and inspired women to be confident in their own skin, regardless of their body’s shape and size. This movement has helped millions of women cultivate positive body image and recognize their beauty is in their own diversity.
It is, however, important to understand that body positivity and positive body image are not the same things. While body positivity encourages respect for all body sizes, a positive body image entails actively liking the way one’s own body looks. While this is only a slight distinction, it significantly impacts the way this movement takes root in the minds of women across the nation. In some ways, body positivity falls short to realistically elevate self-perception by pressuring women to feel as if they must love their outer appearance.
Because of this, the body neutrality movement is the most inclusive for all types of women.
Kortney Olson, the CEO of the size-inclusive activewear brand GRRRL, explains to the public what the movement stands for in essence: “Body neutrality is a better approach for the collective because it encourages people to focus on what our bodies can do as opposed to what they look like. Furthermore, the journey of trying to find self-love is one composed of steep highs and lows. We try to focus on self-love and body neutrality. 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. On the other hand, if we’re focusing on body neutrality, it’s a much easier space to occupy because the highs and lows are always met with the same attitude of acceptance. It also allows us to focus on things like being grateful for what function our bodies do possess as opposed to what features we don’t possess” (Byrdie).
In this manner, women are taught to view their bodies as vehicles, appreciating the tasks their bodies perform rather than the appearances that they hold. With this mindset, it is easier to place less emphasis on body size and escape the added pressure that comes with being “body positive.”
As the body neutrality movement continues to take off, it is important that more women are aware of just how inclusive this movement can be.
The Shortcomings of Body Positivity
Body positivity can be an extremely tricky topic to maneuver for women who don’t fit the traditional beauty standard. While the movement, especially promoted over social media, encourages women to love their bodies no matter their size, the prevalence of fatphobia and weight-based discrimination in society makes it increasingly harder for women to do exactly that.
“When the culture and the medical world are constantly pushing the idea that “obesity” needs to be eliminated, it’s not the fat cells that are feeling that stigma—it’s the fat people,” says the Scientific American. Whether in the workplace, in healthcare, or in social settings, overweight women are statistically proven to face greater amounts of discrimination than their thinner counterparts. A 2015 review of studies done by the Obesity Journal, for example, found empirical evidence suggesting that weight-based discrimination in the healthcare field (driven by the prevalence of fat stigma) oftentimes leads to misdiagnosis and an infringement on doctor-patient relationships (Self). Patients who are immediately written off as overweight by their own doctors are therefore less inclined to seek medical help and more likely to fall prey to undetected illnesses. This same concept can be seen in all aspects of everyday discrimination.
Therefore, in a society driven by antifat stigma and weight loss ideation, the body positivity movement can falsely conceal the universal struggles that heavier women experience.
This is not to discredit the significant impact that the body positivity movement has had not just on the plus-size community, but on women of all sizes. It has helped spur the onset of body representation in media advertisements, exemplified by diversity-friendly brands like Dove and Aerie, and it has helped deaccelerate the rate of eating disorders amongst young girls nationwide. Nevertheless, the leap to body positivity can still feel too far out of reach for many women, especially those living under existing societal and familial pressures that equate thinness with the beauty standard.
The movement ultimately becomes fruitless when it encourages women to love a body that is the source of simultaneous discrimination. To what extent can radical self-love truthfully be adopted by every individual?
Inclusivity In The Body Neutrality Movement
The body neutrality movement is rooted in a mindset shift that advocates placing more value in the body’s function rather than its appearance.
“Body neutrality is much more beneficial in so many ways because it is a more authentic and empowering approach to acceptance,” says Maddy Ciccone, head instructor of the infamous indoor cycling class, SoulCycle. “It’s not about ignoring your imperfections because being perfect doesn’t exist. It’s about honoring and cherishing your body in a way that encourages you to take care of it without judgment. It’s being able to say, “this is my body and you can take it or leave it, but you better believe I’m going to use it for all that is capable of” (Byrdie).
Not all women will learn to love their cellulite, stretch marks, and stomach rolls: body features which society deems “fat” and “unattractive.” This movement provides a space for women to feel at peace with their bodies, without ideals of radical self-love being enforced on them.
Moreover, one of the most important aspects of the body neutrality movement is its inclusivity of all women, not just a hand-selected few. When the body positivity movement first exploded over social media, it was quickly taken over by conventionally attractive, non-disabled white women, many of whom embodied hourglass figures and waist sizes under size 16. This left many women to feel as if they could no longer be represented by the movement because they were not “acceptably” overweight. While its entire mission was to challenge the beauty standard, #bodypositivity was inherently creating its own.
At the same time, it was pushing marginalized groups out of the conversation. Women of color, women of larger sizes, women with disabilities, and transgender women are rarely represented across social media. This lack of inclusivity only underminess the values behind the movement. “The body-positive movement doesn’t put people with disabilities and other marginalized bodies into the foreground,” confirms writer Rebekah Taussig in The Guardian. “Body neutrality, I think, has the power to be really useful in particular to people with disabilities, especially those with chronic pain or people with diagnoses that are progressive. Those people are pretty frustrated with the demand to love their bodies when they feel betrayed by them. Being neutral could feel like a relief.”
Regardless of skin color, gender, disabilities, or size, the body neutrality movement, in essence, is a universal tool that is available to all women.
The Future Of Body Neutrality
As body neutrality continues to pick up attention in the media, society is slowly becoming a more inclusive space for women of all sizes, ethnicities, and disabilities to make peace with their own bodies.
Influencers such as Victoria Garrick and Natacha Oceane, two fitness YouTubers with their own histories of body image issues, have utilized their growing platforms to attack diet culture misconceptions, promote the practice of intuitive eating, and encourage body neutrality. These influencers are a source of inspiration to all young women that are struggling to grapple with a negative self-image, and they must be recognized for their efforts.
Overall, as the movement gains more publicity in the media, body neutrality may be an ideal replacement for those struggling to find representation under our unattainable body positivity culture. The only way to accelerate its rise is through advocacy and allyship.