Body Positivity vs Body Neutrality: How to Practice Body Neutrality in 9 Ways

Jun 5, 202410 min
a group of girls who is so open about their body positivity and body neutrality

Body Neutrality Is Better Than Body Positivity. Here’s Why + 9 Ways To Practice Body Neutrality

People come and go. Jobs come and go. Ideologies evolve, and preferences change. The only thing that stays forever in an individual’s life is their body. In whatever shape or form the body exists, it is your only true companion that will be with you from the day you’re born till the day you die. 

It’s a shame, then, that our lifelong companion is put under immense scrutiny and expected to fit into the shape and size that’s trending. This pressure to look a certain way and have a certain body type has led to many people feeling self-conscious and focusing more on the appearance than the health of their body. 

It has led to many of us struggling with a negative body image. Both, the body positivity movement and the body neutrality movement have emerged as a response to the different types of interpersonal and structural body shaming that contributes to negative body image and low self-esteem. 

Let’s dig deeper… 

The Current Body Positivity Movement

The body positivity movement began as a retort to fat-shaming. In the year 1969, a New York-based engineer by the name of Bill Fabrey, frustrated with the way his wife was treated for being fat, formed an organization called ‘National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance’. The organization, still alive, is the longest-running fat-advocacy organization of all time.  

With the advent of the Internet, the narratives around fat shaming became more widespread, lending the fat rights movement another boost. Social media widened the scope of body shaming, and led to the inclusion of ALL body shapes and sizes in the body positivity movement. 

As it stands today, body positivity movement is about loving your body, no matter what it looks like. The sentiment behind body positivity is that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. This is admirable. However, the movement still focuses on one’s appearance. Critics of the movement have pointed out that this approach may put us at risk of neglecting our health, in the name of embracing all body shapes and sizes. 

What Is Body Neutrality?

The essence of body neutrality is best captured in this affirmation: “My body is more than the way it looks, and I’m grateful for all the experiences it enables me to have.”

Let’s repeat that: “My body is more than the way it looks, and I’m grateful for all the experiences it enables me to have.”

The body enables us to survive - to breathe, eat, digest, and sense our surroundings. We can utilize the body to widen the experiences we have in life. Through the body, we can travel, read, hug a loved one, make art, and much more. I hope you can see how this sentiment shifts our focus to what the body gives us, rather than how it looks and whether or not it fits into the current standards of the ‘ideal’ body type. 

Body neutrality emphasizes the body’s abilities, while at the same time, honoring the fact that our bodies evolve and have different levels of energy on a day-to-day basis. 

Body neutrality simply means that we neither get bogged down by the so-called flaws in our appearance or the body’s functioning nor do we put pressure on ourselves to love our body. 

We practice, quite literally, neutrality in our stance toward the body.  This, in turn, helps us see our body for what it is, and not be too critical when it’s not “ideal” or too proud when it gains the approval of onlookers. 

Body neutrality encourages us to not put any labels on the body - neither good nor bad. It also encourages us to shift our focus on what the body can and does do for us. This neutrality can, in turn, help us develop a more attuned relationship with our bodies.

How Did The Body Neutrality Movement Start?

The concept of ‘body neutrality’ was introduced by body image coach Anne Poirer in the year 2015. She began teaching body neutrality workshops, and soon enough, many celebrities including Jameela Jamil and Taylor Swift began speaking about it on social media and in interviews. This gave the movement a much-needed momentum.  

Anne Poirer defined body neutrality as the practice of “not supporting the hatred of our vessel (our physical structure) or the love and adoration of our vessel”. She identified five steps of body neutrality. These are:

  1. Offer a truce to your body 
  2. Daily body appreciation 
  3. Curbing negative self-talk 
  4. Focus on your strengths 
  5. Clean up your social media feed of anything that feeds dislike or hatred toward the body 

Given that pop culture has come to favor body neutrality, some academics have begun taking an interest in studying its impact on psychological well-being. Preliminary studies are showing that body neutrality is a promising stance to take, and can offer both relief and protection from eating disorders and improve one’s body image. 

Body Positivity Vs Body Neutrality: What Are The Differences? 

Both body positivity and body neutrality began as movements to help individuals combat body image concerns or a negative body image. 

How we learn to view our bodies depends largely on the kind of messages we get from the people in our lives, as well as pop culture. Pop culture, including magazines, movies, and other media, has been infamous for perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards. While what is considered to be the “ideal” body shape or size changes every few decades, the very idea that there is an “ideal” body is problematic. 

All bodies are different, which means that very few bodies actually fit this mythical ideal. This is a recipe for fuelling body image issues or a negative body image. While fat-shaming is a well-known phenomenon that impacts body image, people are also shamed for being too thin, too dark, too tall, having curly hair, not enough musculature, and so on. This leaves almost all of us vulnerable to developing a negative body image. 

Differences

Body Positivity

Body Neutrality

Define 

Body Positivity is best defined as a social movement with the aim of helping people love their bodies no matter their shape, size, or functionality. 

Body neutrality is based on the idea of accepting the body as it is, and for what it is, without putting any labels on it. 

Example 

An example of Body Positivity is what’s also called “fat-positivity”. This is a form of body positivity in which one is encouraged to embrace and love their body, even when it is labeled as “fat”. 


Some celebrities and companies have championed the cause of body positivity beautifully. Increasingly, we are seeing artists like Adele and Lizzo embrace their big bodies without trying to shrink into what may be considered an “acceptable size”. A recent example of an accidental body-positive moment is Aditi Rao’s Gajhgamini walk from Heeramandi going viral on social media. If you haven’t seen it, in the seductive stride that lasts only for a few seconds, Rao flaunts the natural curves on her back - a much-needed break from the hard-rock abs we’ve been seeing on celebrities recently. 

Body neutrality is a relatively calmer stance compared to body positivity. 


In the fitness and wellness industry, there are many inspiring examples of body neutrality. One is the ongoing conversation around designing workouts for women around their menstrual cycle. Many fitness enthusiasts and professionals are beginning to talk about how women’s energy levels fluctuate during the month due to hormonal changes, and that workouts should be designed to accommodate these natural ups and downs. 


Another example of body neutrality comes from the yoga community - it is well-accepted among yoga practitioners that their asana practice will look different on a daily basis based on what they ate the day before, how well they slept, or how their mood is. 

Origins

Body Positivity originated as a retort to the fat-shaming of a New York-based engineer’s wife. As he noticed how his wife was treated differently because of her weight, he began reading up on the issue and found other similar accounts of fat-shaming. He then formed an organization to combat fat-shaming. This was the origin of the body positivity movement. 

Body neutrality began with a body image coach named Anne Porier. It is a recent phenomenon, originating only in 2015. The idea of neutrality resonated with many celebrities and quickly gained momentum. 


Studies are now showing that neutrality offers more relief and protection from the damaging effects of a negative body image, compared to body positivity. 

Criticism

Criticism and Challenges of  Body Positivity are 


  1. The ideology puts us at risk of neglecting actual health issues related to excess weight, and may lead us to practice “toxic positivity”.

  2. There is a continued focus on appearance, given that the message of body positivity is to “love how we look”.

  3. Body positivity is often used as tokenism in pop culture, as is evident in many campaigns that place one overweight woman alongside others who seem to fit into the current beauty standard. 

  4. Research has shown mixed results when it comes to body positivity’s impact on psychological well-being. 

  5. The idea of “loving one’s body” when one is struggling with negative body image and low self-worth may feel unrealistic and dismissive of the individual’s actual lived experience and sense of self. 

Criticism and Challenges of  Body Neutrality are similar to body positivity:


  1. Neutrality may also lead us to ignore signs of poor health 

  2. Some critics say that it’s not possible to be neutral toward our bodies at all times. Neutrality can be viewed as a state of unconditional acceptance, which can be challenging.  


Overall, both in terms of pop culture and emerging research, it appears that body neutrality has more benefits and is more inclusive than body positivity. 

This sentiment of neutrality being more useful than love or admiration is echoed in different areas of psychology. In therapy work, too, one encourages the client to view their experiences from a neutral stance, observing without labeling, and making space for all experiences. 

Body neutrality movement seems to have a similar message: Instead of saying ‘I am bloated, and love my body nonetheless’, neutrality encourages us to say, ‘I am bloated today, and it’s uncomfortable for me. But, I will not place any labels on my body or my experience of it today and wait to see how it feels tomorrow’. 

Two young girls are Eating junk food and this might create an eating disorder

How Can Body Neutrality Help With Eating Disorder Recovery?

Eating disorders like bulimia, anorexia, and restrictive eating are often linked to a negative body image. As we have seen above, body neutrality allows us to be more accepting of our bodies. But let’s dig a bit deeper into this. 

Body neutrality encourages us to treat the body as a “vessel” rather than a part of our identity and sense of self. This seemingly simple shift in vocabulary in fact heralds a deeper shift in ideology. By moving away from an appearance-focused culture, we learn to move deeper into the functionality of this vessel. 

If body neutrality is a way of being or a philosophy rather than a prescription, then the actual acts we do (covered in the next section) bring us closer to how our body feels than how it looks. 

When we become more attuned to how our body feels, we also slowly become more attuned to how food feels in our body… how starvation feels, and how different types of foods feel. Body neutrality encourages us to notice. In noticing, we become more mindful, and in being more mindful about our bodies, we shift towards mindful eating habits. 

Body neutrality is still finding its way into academia and research. One study of 75 adolescents shows promising results. In this study, the participants reported they resonated with the concept of body neutrality. After a single session of psycho-educating the participants about body neutrality, they shared that they now saw their bodies in a positive light, and appreciated the body's functionality more, rather than focusing on the appearance. 

In 2024, Know How To Practice Body Neutrality In 9 Practical Ways

Now that we know a bit about the wonderful benefits of body neutrality, let’s turn our attention to how we can practice it. An ideology like body neutrality can sound a bit vague and it can seem daunting to get started. By offering you practical ways to practice body neutrality, I hope to make the journey easier for you. 

  1. Make a list of all the things your body enables you to do to survive and experience your daily surroundings.

  1. Make number one a habit - start a daily practice of making note of the things your body helped you experience or achieve. 

  1. Notice and pause when you compare yourself with other people.

  1. Remember that the images we see online and in media are more often than not, manipulated. On social media, people tend to use filters and enhance certain body parts with makeup and lighting. In media, too, there’s manipulation with Photoshop edits and makeup and lighting

  1. Focus on comfort. What would comfort mean in terms of the way you dress, or what you do with your hair? 

  1. Focus on the health of your body rather than its appearance. Your waist size is not as important as the amount of weight you can carry to get by in your daily life.  Being physically healthy and strong is more important than fitting into a certain body shape or size.  

  1. Make movement a part of your daily life - this will help you get in touch with the body’s functionality rather than appearance. Find a movement-based practice that you enjoy. 

  1. Resist analyzing everything you eat in terms of calories. Instead, learn to tune into how you feel after a meal. If your daily diet is making you feel bloated, gassy, or sluggish, that’s your body’s feedback. Pay attention to it and decide what’s best for your health and comfort. 

  1. Accept that you and your body won’t be 100% at all times on all days. Learn about your body’s natural rhythm - what are your most productive hours? When does laziness kick in? How do you feel when your routine is shaken up? All these questions will help you build a relationship with your body. 

In Conclusion…

Both body positivity and body neutrality are movements that began as a retort to factors that contribute to negative body image. Both have contributed significantly in breaking the silence around these issues and helping us develop a more positive relationship with our bodies. That being said anecdotal data and research show that body neutrality may be more beneficial for us in the long run. Body neutrality is a lifestyle rather than a singular action. But, some daily activities and habits can help us embody this lifestyle and become more compassionate toward this “vessel” that carries us through life. 

References: 

Author's Profile picture
Prachi Gangwani
Therapist | Yoga Teacher | Author of Dear Men: Masculinity and Modern Love in #MeToo India