How to Practice Body Neutrality

As someone who has dealt with chronic pain for a large portion of my life, I have a complicated relationship with my body. The body positivity movement encourages everyone to love their body as it is right now.

This is almost always in relation to the physical appearance of your body. All bodies are beautiful so we should love them. But what if my body doesn’t do everything that I need it to do? Should I love it as it is in that case?

If the goal is to have a healthy sense of self-worth, body neutrality offers an alternative to the idea that you have to love your body in order to love yourself.

1. Realize that your body is constantly changing.

On days when I am dealing with chronic pain, it’s hard for me to imagine a time where it wasn’t happening. On days where I am free from chronic pain, I hardly think about my condition.

Neither state is permanent but during either of those moments, I think as though they are. It’s helpful to accept your body as it is today and accept that it is possible, even likely, that it will not look and feel the same a year from now.

When it comes to aesthetic concerns, I sometimes feel guilty about having a chubbier stomach at the end of the day. After you eat, your stomach is going to grow and it’s interesting how we have been conditioned to have an antagonistic relationship with our bodies’ natural processes.

You don’t have to love the fact that your stomach look a little bigger at the end of the day, but to hate this fact is to hate the fact that the sun rises every morning.

We see our bodies at fixed points and fail to realize that the body, just as all things, is ever-changing. Our sense of self is often influenced by our bodies whether that be its internal or external state.

2. Understand that the state of your body is not intrinsically linked to your person-hood.

There is no single thing that makes you, you. Not your job, your memories, your fears and definitely not your body. Linking the state of your body to your value as a person can be harmful.

Sometimes we don’t have control over the internal or external state of our bodies and there is no reason to feel guilt over this fact. Society’s standards of beauty can be unforgiving and they often don’t make an exception for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

The body positivity combats this by upholding the truth that neither race, nor disability nor chronic illness make you inherently unattractive. But a less focused truth is that the physical appearance and the quality of being attractive has little to do with who you are as a person. 

3. Get familiar with your body.

It can sometimes be inadvisable to view your body as a machine but in a lot of ways it is. Your body is a series of systems that work together every day to make your body function.

When we feel antagonistic towards our bodies, it can help to understand why our bodies do the things that they do. For me, this means doing research about endometriosis and making regular doctors’ visits to ensure that I am healthy. 

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Body positivity is commendable in its efforts to challenge what we as a society regard as beautiful. But it can fall short as it still upholds physical beauty as the one of the most significant elements of our person-hood.

I accept that there are some elements of my body that frustrate me, some parts that need some work and some that I am more than happy with. This fact is neither good nor bad.

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