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Why Body Neutrality May Be the Healthy Headspace You Never Knew You Needed

When you adopt a body-neutral mindset, you start to appreciate your body’s amazing daily feats—and it feels really good.



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Bon Allen recalls a time in her life when she didn’t look favorably on her body. Based on what it looked like to her, and what she believed was being said about her due to social constructs, she said that she didn’t have a good relationship with her body. It didn’t help that she was also going through infertility. Then one day, she decided to shift her thinking.

“By focusing on other qualities I have that make me a good person, but also by learning what my body could do, I was able to build a better relationship with him and found it much easier to make me eat well and [fitness] training a part of my everyday life,” she says.

Now an avid weight-lifter, coach, and body neutrality expert, Allen imparts her sage words and body-neutral messaging through her Instagram page. But what exactly is body neutrality, and how does it differ from body positivity, another mindset that’s become even more popular in recent years?

If you like the idea of ​​taking the middle ground when it comes to appreciating your body, embracing the empowering attitude of body neutrality might be a great step for you. Ahead, we explore this concept, share body-neutral mantras, and discuss healthier ways to reframe negative self-talk and thoughts.

What Is Body Neutrality?

Body neutrality first popped up as a phrase in 2015, thanks in part to Anne Poirier, a certified intuitive eating counselor, eating disorder specialist, author, and founder of Shaping Perspectives. Poirier started using the term “body neutral” on social media, and recently, the concept has been gaining even more steam.

“Body neutrality is a mental stance toward the body that essentially removes the focus on aesthetics and focuses more on functionality,” says Jenna DiLossi, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and body image expert with Minding Your Mind. For example, if someone is body-neutral, DiLossi says, they would not pay much attention to the fat/muscle ratio of their legs, but might think about how much weight their legs can lift or how long their legs are for running speed.

“Body neutrality,” Allen adds, “recognizes that as humans we may sometimes feel positive about our bodies, we may sometimes feel negative about them—but ultimately, if we [shift] focus away from how we feel about the aesthetics of our body and [toward] what it can do, and the other qualities we possess as humans, we can build a better relationship with our bodies and have better self-esteem and self-worth.”

How Is It Different From Body Positivity?

Both of these terms refer to mindsets geared toward self-acceptance and -appreciation, but they do differ in meaning and approach.

While body neutrality mostly removes the element of appearance and emphasizes functionality, body positivity is used in relation to appearance and beauty, and so by nature represents a contrasting ideology, DiLossi explains. “Body neutrality is to body positivity as not thinking about one’s curves is to loving one’s curves,” she says. They are two different, but equally valid and well-intentioned ways to approach your relationship with your body.

Weight inclusion and representation—seen through clothing brands spotlighting models in larger bodies and offering more size options, and in the success of body-positive celebrity icons like Grammy-winning Lizzo and supermodel Ashley Graham, are hallmarks of body positivity.

Body positivity isn’t a bad thing whatsoever—far from it—but to some people it may feel inauthentic or forced to “love” their body, flaunt their body, and feel beautiful at all times. Some people don’t align with the fact that a body-positive approach doesn’t always take into account the reality that sometimes they love their body, sometimes they’re neutral, and sometimes they just don’t—and that’s OK. (Meanwhile, others absolutely do align with the outlook that everyone deserves to feel, look, and be considered beautiful,

“Body neutrality is that middle ground,” Allen says. “It’s being able to acknowledge that all bodies are different, but also [deemphasizing] aesthetic traits as where we draw positivity from.”

What Can Body Neutrality Look and Sound Like?

Personally, Allen was able to shift from a negative view of her body (“I don’t like my body because it couldn’t carry a baby”) to more body-neutral thoughts like, “I love that today my body helped me do a deadlift.”

DiLossi also describes body neutrality more generally as “a person does not speak too much about what their body looks like, but rather putting that energy into other domains.” For example, rather than trying to either “fix” your cellulite or force yourself to love your cellulite, find a more neutral headspace: center on what your legs can and will do for you. Exercise with a specific running speed (not your cellulite) in mind; remember how your legs carry you through a long day of walking, bending, lifting and standing during volunteer work with animals.

“One of the most robust ways to change your mindset is to change your behavior, even if it doesn’t feel natural right away,” DiLossi says. The first step is always just to notice when you have those negative and focused thoughts and feelings that appear. Observe your thought, let it pass, then offset it with a body-neutral thought. The more you practice intentionally shifting and replacing those thoughts and behaviors, the more automatic it will become.

Allen says that gratitude is another huge component of body neutrality: being thankful for what your body is can do instead of what it is can’t do. She believes this mind shift is “life-changing,” especially since many of us are conditioned to believe that we’ll only be happy or successful or worthy if and when we look a certain way, eg, hit a certain weight, shape, or sizes. “The reality is that we can be happy [starting] from the day we choose to view it differently,” Allen says.

Helpful Body-Neutral Mantras

When trying to reframe your thinking to become more body neutral, it can be helpful to have a mantra or two for motivation and inspiration. You can try repeating any of the following phrases from our experts on your journey to body neutrality.

  • I have more value than just what I look like.

  • How I feel about my body does not mean that I can’t do great things with it.

  • It’s OK that today I think I don’t look good, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel good or won’t feel better tomorrow.

  • My body is just my body. It’s just one part of who I am.

Small Ways to Adopt a Body-Neutral Mindset

Instead of setting appearance-based “health” goals like “lose 15 pounds” or “finally schedule that facelift,” here are some slow, steady, and sustainable body-neutral intentions to aim for instead, according to Allen and DiLossi.

  • Embrace fitness for its myriad non-appearance-based benefits. Set specific movement goals that have nothing to do with looks. Exercise to: get your heart pumping; enjoy a cathartic sweat; strengthen your core and support your spine; or destress and regulate your mood).

  • Notice and stop yourself from body-checking. This means reducing behaviors like frequently looking at and analyzing parts of your body in the mirror; grabbing or pinching parts of your body; examine photos of yourself to find changes, flaws, and differences between your body and others’ bodies.

  • Be mindful of reducing or eliminating comments, good or bad, about your own body and other people’s bodies. That goes for remarking on photos of celebrities, strangers on the street, family members around the holidays, and even friends you think look great. Can you find a way to compliment someone for something other than their physical appearance? Can you catch yourself making self-deprecating jokes about the way you look in a beach photo?

  • Place more value on non-cosmetic qualities. Rather than using words like “skinny” or “fat,” “pretty” or “unattractive,” concentrate on functional qualities like strength, balance, energy, and resilience to appreciate the natural and unique capabilities of your body—whether that’s deadlifting 120 pounds , growing and nourishing a baby, or simply carrying you through the world every single day.

“There are so many ways we can focus on enjoying the world that aren’t based on what our bodies look like,” Allen says. As a result of her body-neutral way of thinking, her life has become decidedly more vibrant, and she brims with confidence. From experience, she shares that this mindset might feel foreign at the beginning, but eventually it can become a second nature. Once your mind is opened to the concept, you won’t believe just how ingrained your beliefs, behaviors, and biases are around looks and beauty standards. (Remember, it took years, even decades, for these thoughts to become ingrained, so it will take some time to unlearn them. Be patient!).

“Pushing yourself to do things [without thinking] about what you look like so much is going to feel uncomfortable at first,” she says, “But once you do it a few times and you see how much you enjoy things, it gets easier and easier. It sounds like hocus-pocus, but quite genuinely, when you grow the confidence to just be you, the world opens up and life becomes so much easier.”

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Read the original article on Real Simple.