Social media prompts various questions concerning the self. This is clearly apparent in many of the platforms we interact with. We must ask ourselves how we can establish who we truly are when we are too often told to tailor ourselves to the external forces and expectations around us? How can we recognize our own self-worth rather than comparing our innate characteristics to others? Should we, or should we not, compare our bodies to those we look up to? Social media consistently pushes us to ask these critical questions.
Body positivity is a term that has undoubtedly evolved within the past couple of years. The term has most notably created a movement in media and body perception. Body positivity encourages us to form a positive body image of ourselves and others despite our differing appearances. Common rhetoric used within the body positivity movement includes: “love your body” and “embrace your flaws.” Although the body positivity movement philosophy may work for some, it may not work for all. Healthline emphasizes the negative outcomes of such rhetoric, “Telling yourself you should love your body can simply create another trap to fall into, compounding your distress by making you feel as if you’ve failed.” Suggesting that we should “embrace” our bodies in comparison or “despite” the ideal insinuates that our certain appearances, natural or not, should be compared to the expected or ideal body image. This understanding may also dangerously incite unhealthy body image habits (diet culture, eating disorders, etc.) and encourage girls+ to prioritize their appearance in how they perceive themselves.
Stating that we love our blemishes (stretch marks, acne, fat, etc.), despite common conceptions, can convey the very misconception that we are flawed. Rather than looking at and comparing our bodies in this perspective, we should learn to recognize our bodies as unflawed. Despite the good intentions of the body positivity movement, it’s significant to remember that our bodies are not insufficient based on the norm, as social media influencer and diet activist Katie Budenberg reminds us in Elle magazine’s article “Is Body Neutrality The Answer To Gen Z’s Diet Culture Problem?” In this article, Katie Budenberg states, “nobody had taught me how to deal with a changing body other than to want to change it back.” With this being said, body positivity may unintentionally motivate girls+ to change who they are and change their bodies, rather than giving them the chance to acknowledge and accept their natural selves.
Image courtesy of GH
Can Body Neutrality Help Girls+ Quit Diet Culture?
Body neutrality can remind us that our bodies do not solely depend on appearance and do not carry flaws. Instead, it can emphasize the fact that our bodies make us who we are. This fairly new term allows us to see and appreciate what our body allows us to do. As Healthline defines it, body neutrality “promotes acceptance of your body as it is, encouraging you to recognize its abilities and nonphysical characteristics over your appearance.” So, rather than identifying our bodies by appearance and/or worth, body neutrality asserts a certain form of body consciousness. With this form of mindfulness, we can acknowledge what our bodies truly enable us to do.
Diet culture harmfully suggests that we should change or transform our bodies to reach a certain ideal appearance, weight, or overall vision. In a New York Times article, Christy Harrison (a registered dietitian nutritionist) defines diet culture as, “a belief system that views being thin as a mark of health and moral virtue, promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status and better health, demonizes some foods while elevating others and oppresses people who don’t match culture’s image of health and beauty.” Diet culture, thus, wrongfully determines value based on society’s ideal body image. By applying body neutrality, girls+ can disrupt diet culture expectations by stressing “the broad range of experiences we have with our bodies” (Verywellmind).
Image courtesy of Cosmopolitan
It wasn’t too long ago when Lizzo provided us with inspirational body neutrality content in her viral Instagram video earlier this year. Her explanation of her once hate for her stomach, and now love and appreciation for its abilities, appears in her comment, “I used to want to cut my stomach off I hated it so much. But it’s literally ME.” This rhetoric coincides with the very definition of body neutrality. Instead of viewing or comparing one’s body as something that must be visually and socially acceptable, Lizzo and body neutrality inspire us to love our bodies for what they do.
There are plenty of other inspiring influencers who advocate for body neutrality. As mentioned previously, Katie Budenberg is an anti-diet activist that spreads the word of body neutrality to combat diet culture. Victoria Garrick, a former Division I Volleyball Player, TED Talk Speaker, and Mental Health Advocate, utilizes body neutrality to address its effects on athletes and their body image. Tiffany Ima redefines body image ideals by spreading “simple body confidence” as a social media influencer and blogger. Mik Zazon, a writer/blogger, motivational speaker, and social media influencer, promotes body neutrality to normalize body images. Finally, Jess Quinn, a social media influencer, amputee model, and cancer survivor, uses her platform and personal experience to inspire others with body neutrality.
These are just a few (of many) body neutrality influencers in the media. As you research and observe the rhetoric used by these amazing influencers, remember that your body is what makes you who you are. Body neutrality or body positivity may not be for everyone. Some may consider body positivity as a philosophy that works for them compared to neutrality or vice versa. Nevertheless, our philosophies (differing or not) remind us that we are all distinctive and benefit from viewing our bodies honestly and respectfully.
For ways to practice body neutrality check out these articles by:
Aryana Martin, Editorial Intern, is a student at Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. She studies English with a double minor in Sociology and African and African Diaspora Studies. She’s passionate about reading, writing, learning, and creating new relationships and experiences. She is thrilled to contribute to the MEDIAGIRLS mission.
Special shoutout to Angela Scott and Victoria Harding for their suggestions and mentorship for this piece.