Most of us can relate to picking apart something about our bodies. Body insecurities are common and normal, but if you’re constantly fretting about your physical appearance, size, or weight, it can be harmful to your well-being. Here’s how to achieve body acceptance, even if you don’t achieve body positivity.
Body positivity vs. body neutrality
You can chalk up body image issues to our culture, which values conventionally thin and fit bodies, and perpetuates the idea that thinness is the key to happiness, relationship and job success, and more. This is a false narrative, but it’s deeply ingrained in us, so it’s unsurprising that you may struggle with insecurities and body image issues.
Body positivity is a movement that challenges these appearance standards and encourages you to love your body, no matter what its shape, size, or any physical characteristic. This is a good idea in theory, but in reality, no one feels 100% happy with their body all the time. In fact, a 2011 Glamour survey found that 97% of women admitted to having at least one negative body thought per day, while on average, women experienced 13 negative body thoughts each day. So, it’s not realistic to expect that you can just reframe those negative thoughts and fall in love with your body.
That’s where body neutrality comes into play. Rather than focusing on body positivity, it encourages you to move away from thinking about your body’s physical appearance and come to appreciate and accept what your body is capable of. This is more realistic and helpful than body positivity because it’s more natural to cultivate this type of respect for your body than it is to develop a love for your body’s outward appearance.
How to achieve body acceptance
Fill your social feeds with a broad range of body sizes. If you’re only seeing so-called ‘perfect’ bodies all day long, it can make you feel bad about yourself. You have the ability to filter your feed by unfollowing people or muting them. (The mute button is handy for friends who might notice if you unfollowed them.) It’s helpful to see a broader representation of realistic body sizes so you can see more people like you reflected in your feed.
Identify unhelpful thoughts and replace them with realistic ones. If you have a ‘body hate’ thought (think: ‘I hate my thighs’ or ‘I wish my stomach were flatter’), recognize that it’s not helping you. In fact, it’s harmful. The body positivity movement might suggest a counter-thought that’s positive, such as ‘I love my thighs’ or ‘my stomach is perfect just the way it is.’ But, those positive sentiments are hard for most people to believe, so they’re probably not helpful, either. A body-neutral reframe is realistic and rooted in your body’s functional abilities. So, consider replacing those unhelpful thoughts with ones like ‘my legs take me on my adventures’ or ‘my tummy allowed me to carry a baby.’ Pick statements that resonate with you.
Practice realistic affirmations. The reason why you want to practice these reframes is that they will become more natural over time. We tend to believe what we say to ourselves, so if we replace negative and unhelpful thoughts with more realistic and appreciative ones, we can cultivate body acceptance. Also, if you’re having a bad body moment or day, it might be hard to think of a counter-thought on the spot. Therefore, instead of continuing to spiral, if you have these statements already in your head, you can change your outlook.
Eat and move in self-respectful ways. If you only view nutrition and exercise as ways to improve your physical appearance, it can make these self-care behaviors feel unpleasant. Instead, consider how to take care of your body so it can function at its best. What foods do you digest well? What meals provide ongoing energy? What workouts help you destress or feel comfortable on your joints? When you embrace this mentality, you’ll make choices that serve your body well.
Dress for the body you have. If you’re wearing something that’s too tight, it will be a constant reminder of trying to squeeze your current body into a previous size. Similarly, if you’re wearing something that’s too big, it could also make you feel insecure about your size. Therefore, it’s helpful to find a middle ground--not too small and not too big, either. That way, you can feel comfortable and confident and not think much about your outfit (or body) after you get dressed.
Stop making comments about any body. Unfortunately, it’s become part of our culture to dissect a celebrity’s body, weight loss, or weight gain. But remarking about someone’s physicality isn’t helpful to your own journey toward body acceptance, and it may be upsetting to others around you. Similarly, talking about a friend’s weight loss or gain or another body change isn’t appropriate unless you know it's welcome. It’s impossible to tell if someone is intentionally losing or gaining weight, or if they’re dealing with a medical condition, under serious stress, etc. So these comments don’t serve anyone well. If you want to compliment someone’s physical appearance, try saying something about how flattering their outfit is, how much you like their new hairdo, or how their smile radiates.
The bottom line
Given our society’s value on the so-called ‘perfect,’ conventionally thin body, it’s understandable to have body image issues and body insecurities. While body positivity challenges these appearance norms, it can be challenging to feel happy with our bodies all the time, and most people probably can’t get there. Body neutrality is a different approach that can help you stop hating your body by encouraging you to focus on appreciating how your body functions. When you work on body neutrality techniques, you can develop a deeper respect for your body, rather than a total love or hate relationship with it.