Body Positivity Isn’t Happening For Me. I’m Aiming for Body Neutrality Instead.

The Instagram video that broke me featured a pretty blonde in a pink crop top. She was caressing her stomach and smiling blandly while swaying in front of the camera. “Life’s too short not to love every inch of yourself!” the caption read.

I don’t know why, but that video did it. I’d seen those types of videos before, with a woman half-dancing around, urging me to embrace my soft or love my cellulite or whatever. But this one was the last straw. Believe me when I say I threw my phone down on the couch and took an angry lap around my living room. That moment was when I realized that the body positivity movement—the love every inch movement—was just too far out of reach for me.

Surely there had to be something in between loving myself unconditionally, and how I currently felt, which ranged from benign hostility toward my body, to “meh.” Enter: body neutrality. Instead of the constant stream of negative thoughts that runs through my mind 24/7 (just me?) I want…nothing. I don’t need to replace all those messages with body positive self-love—I just want a break from the negative.

the author at a foggy grand canyon by this point it should be obvious that i'm not sure what to do with my hands in photos

The author at a foggy Grand Canyon. By this point it should be obvious that I’m not sure what to do with my hands in photos.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to be positive. I talk to my therapist. I try to practice intuitive eating. I switched up my Instagram follows so my feed is full of people of all sizes revelling in their gorgeous bodies. But it turns out those Instagram videos aren’t helping. Instead, they’re a reminder of yet another way I’m failing my body. Now, not only am I worried that I’m the wrong size and , I also feel badly about not loving myself enough just the way I am.

the author of the story outside during a sunset posting like a celebrity

In this picture, I was trying to remember how celebrities pose with one leg behind the other to make my legs look slimmer.

It would be nice to love my body. Think of the brain space that I could free up! The hours I could devote to reading, , or using my scrolling-through-Instagram time to focus on celebrities on yachts or judging their fancy kitchens (two of my favorite types of posts). But despite how much I would love to follow my patron saint, Lizzo, to the altar of body positivity, it’s just not happening.

So, before I can truly love my body, I just want to turn down the volume on all the messages that are blaring inside my head. I needed to start by cutting the background noise. For help, I turned to Jessi Kneeland, a body . According to Kneeland, body neutrality is actually kinda boring. “Neutrality is just the truth. You look in the mirror and go, ‘This is a body,’” Kneeland says. So I don’t have to revel in my shape and adore every pimple? As it turns out, nope!

“We’ve all been taught that it’s super important that we have an opinion on how we look. One of the first tenets of neutrality is maybe that’s not true,” Kneeland says. “But that’s a pretty rebellious stance to take in a that, especially for women, is constantly reinforcing the idea that how we look is not only one of the most interesting and valuable things about us, but also that it’s a way in which we’re constantly failing, and we should constantly be trying to improve.”

The good (and bad) news is that I’m certainly not alone. Kneeland has worked with hundreds of clients trying to break through the fog of mixed-messages about their bodies. Originally she focused on helping clients via self-love and body positivity. But she noticed for many of her clients, the messages weren’t clicking. “Positivity is just one more unrealistic standard to reach,” she says. “And I think it makes people feel worse; it makes them harder on themselves and beat themselves up more, which is exactly the opposite of what we’re going for.”

Ah yes, the old “I’m not loving myself enough” blues. I’ve sung that song a few (hundred) times before. But I want to be done with that, I really do. And so I asked Dr. Elizabeth Wassenaar, a psychiatrist, and the medical director at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, for advice on how to start working towards body neutrality. “The first thing is to allow yourself to be open to the idea that your relationship with your body could be different than it is,” Wassenaar says, which is exactly the kind of low-stakes starting point I was hoping for.

Or at least, it seemed low stakes until I implemented Wassenaar’s other piece of advice, which is to recognize all the negative things I say about myself internally. The first time I tried to list them, I lost count of all the mean thoughts swirling around my brain. I hated my thighs for fusing together, causing painful chafing. I hated my rosacea for making my face flush when it seemed like everyone and their sister was posting no- selfies. I could barely walk past a mirror without cringing at my rounded cheeks and jaw in profile. I didn’t even realize the full weight of the emotional burden I’d been carrying around each day, and it shocked me. But Wassenaar says it’s normal to feel overwhelmed.

“It’s okay to have a feeling or a thought about your body that isn’t positive,” Wassenaar says. “And that doesn’t change the fact that you can have goals for your body to help you live your life.” The goals should not be about appearance, Wassenaar says; instead, focus on function—a cornerstone of body neutrality. Like, for example, taking a minute to acknowledge that my legs and lungs worked together to carry me up a steep hill. “Messages of appreciation and gratitude for your body, these neutral messages, can start to reframe your experience of being in your body,” she adds.

the author's selfie

A winter selfie, with my rosacea poking through.

So that’s what I’m starting with. Now, when I look in the mirror, I don’t try to force any positive messages, and I definitely don’t caress my tummy with a vacant grin. I just think, that’s a stomach. As much as any single stomach can exist in the world, well, mine does. Is this where I’d like to eventually end up? No. One day I hope I can truly love every inch. Until then, I just want to look at celebrities on yachts in peace.

Emily Baron Cadloff
Emily Baron Cadloff is a freelance culture writer with a passion for health and wellness.

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7 thoughts on “Body Positivity Isn’t Happening For Me. I’m Aiming for Body Neutrality Instead.

  • February 10, 2021 at 5:12 pm

    I really appreciated this, thanks. I’ve always been super conscious of girls’ and women’s abdomens. When I see them in movies and such, so proudly displayed, bared and firm with cute little muscles proudly flexing, without a crease in sight even when they’re bending full over! What are they, from another planet, or what?
    My soft and decidedly un-svelte mid-section has always made me insecure, wondering why I’m so wretched that I too cannot achieve a hard, skinny waist. Even when I’m at my least chubby, my waistline is too high up or short, so still is inappropriate. Hah, ain’t it wonderful being a girl?
    I’m okay with what I got and that it all still works pretty well at age 64. To blazes with whatever figure rating anyone might apply to me. Like Frank Zappa sang, the ugliest part of their bodies are their minds:
    “What’s The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?”
    What’s the ugliest
    Part of your body?
    Some say your nose
    Some say your toes
    (I think it’s your mind)
    But I think it’s YOUR MIND
    (Your mind)
    I think it’s your mind, woo woo 😂

  • February 12, 2021 at 12:10 am

    Interesting ideas, like intuitive eating. And gratitude. Health is my goal right now. I still enjoy looking at photos of celebrities without make up in normal poses.

  • February 16, 2021 at 12:16 pm

    Thank you for sharing your honesty about how you feel about yourself/ your body.

    I too am seeing these days, a ton of articles about just loving the way you are…but if you are un happy with that, only you can change that.

    Wassenaar is definitely on the right path in saying “focus on function”. If you make your body strong and healthy the rest will follow.
    Though in saying that, it is easier said than done, but you reap what you sew…be dedicated to your cause, it takes a lot!

    Only you can decide to do your work out that day even though you really don’t feel like it, or to eat the piece of cake offered to you at a friends dinner party instead of graciously passing.
    All of these “small” decisions add up. Getting a strong body takes a ton of work, sacrifice and dedication. There is no easy way and no one else can do it for you.

    It does get easier as your mind and body become stronger and you will find your real beautiful strong “you!”
    It sounds like you have found the beginning of your path, and I wish you the best of luck in sticking to it!

  • February 23, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    Called by to thank you for your recent decision to follow Learning from Dogs. Thank you very much!

  • March 2, 2021 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks for sharing your candid thoughts about this issue. People shouldn’t be forced to focus so much on appearance. This problem literally tortures me every day of my life. I feel like I love your personality and your looks based off of your writing and pictures. You don’t need to look perfect, because personality is more interesting. You deserve to love yourself, because obviously you’re a lovable person! Your writing voice is actually fun to read, and it’s genuinely holding my attention, which doesn’t happen to me often enough. Have an exceptional day! 🙂

  • March 11, 2021 at 11:44 pm

    Thank you for choosing to follow my blog, Bobbing Around. I hope my words will be of service to you for a long time.

    You may be aware that for the moment, I am offering free copies to my followers of my award-winning novel, Sleeper, Awake. Email me if you want to take advantage of this opportunity.

    “Beauty is a tree. Inner beauty is the timber that makes a tree a tree. Outer beauty is only the bark, of no use whatever.”



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