Body Neutrality

I’m taking this week off to spend with family for the holidays, so here’s a tidbit from the archives!

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Before I became aware of the voices contributing to the body image conversation, most of the information that I took in about my body related to its faults. Because most of the messages promoted by the media and big business are about how women’s bodies are wrong and offensive, and require products and diets and surgeries to correct their crimes. I started this blog as a way to help counteract some of those negative messages, and soon found a community of writers who were also working to stem the tide of negativity. We wanted to show women that they didn’t need to hate their bodies, and help them learn how to do that.

Lately, there has been a lot of thought-provoking rhetoric about the pressure to love your body. The conversation seems to have turned a corner, and now women are pushing back against the idea that they must love their bodies or feel ashamed for their personal shortcomings. I have linked to many of these essays in my roundups because I’ve found them fascinating, and because I want to use that space to explore topics and opinions that are relevant and thought-provoking even if the opinions expressed therein clash with my own. And I definitely respect that point of view. Our culture is rife with judgment, and it makes sense to me that some of the messages coming out of the body love movement could be interpreted to mean, “If you don’t commit to loving yourself just as you are, you’re failing yourself.”

But in mulling this collective response, I’ve realized two important things.

First and foremost, I don’t love my own body truly, completely, at all times, every day. And I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t expect anyone else to do  so, either. I try to think lovingly about my body, be gentle with myself, forgive. I also try to push back against messages that tell me I’m not good enough, thin enough, tan enough, sculpted enough, young enough. For me, the goal is not a constant state of active, positive body love. It is a state of body neutrality. I spent many years actively hating my body so much that walking by mirrors filled me with loathing. It was exhausting and pointless. I am much happier now that I don’t feel that way anymore but I would never say that I’ve moved from active hate to constant, steady, active love. I accept my body. I know that hating it is a poor use of my energy, of which there is relatively little these days. I am content to feel body neutral, and to occasionally reach for something that feels more like body love.

Second, I believe that I may hear and respond to advice differently than many people. I see advice as opinion, no matter how expert or inexpert the person dishing it out may be. Aside from what I consider to be my own fundamental values – don’t lie, cheat, steal, or hurt, but do be kind, open, non-judgmental – I don’t see the world in shoulds and shouldn’ts. So when I am given advice or seek it out myself, I consider it to be just another opinion that I can add to my pool of information. Some advice can get preachy, and some advice-givers can get overbearing, but I very seldom feel like I am being told what I must do. And when I do feel that way, I brush it off. I am in charge of me, and I get to decide what’s best for me. If someone tells me I should eat more greens or get my oil changed every 1,000 miles or grow my hair out or love my body, I consider their input and make up my own mind. I do this even if they’re furiously judging me for doing something that they believe to be fundamentally right or wrong. Which is seldom the case anyway. In my experience, most advice comes from thought patterns like, “this worked for me, so maybe it would for you” or, “my own investigations or experiences have taught me this and I wanted to share my findings.” Not all, but most. Much as I love the famous quote, I don’t believe that feelings of inferiority are entirely contingent upon consent. But I do believe that, in most cases, I can trust myself to choose. Often when I write advice-filled posts, I remind you all to take what applies to you, discard the rest, and assume positive intent. I do those things, too.

Again, I have the utmost respect for the viewpoint that body love rhetoric can get oppressive. Because a flood of ANY rhetoric can get oppressive, because anything that makes you feel like there is one right way to feel about yourself will chafe, and because many people are dealing with lives and bodies that make “body love” virtually impossible. But when I see essays, suggestions, and advice from the body love community the main message I hear is that hating your body is counterproductive, not that loving your body is required. So if any of you have been feeling judged or shamed by the glut of “love your body” messages, I hope you’ll consider body neutrality as an alternative. And if any of you feel oppressed by the glut of advice floating around in the world, try to remember that you are in charge of you, and ONLY YOU get to decide what’s best for you.

Image courtesy summerbl4ck

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