As a society, we are constantly barraged with images of the ideal body. Whether or not these bodies even exist in real life, filter-free seldom registers in our brains. When we see these images, the brain uses as little processing power as necessary and merely accepts them as reality. Couple this with the toxic messaging that we receive from other people in our lives, who may have shamed us for our bodies for whatever reason. Your nose can be too big for some people, while too small for others. Your hips can be too wide for some and too narrow for others. There is seemingly no way to win.
Body neutrality was coined in 2015 by Anne Poirier, a body image coach. Body neutrality aims to shift a person’s perspective from body shame, hate, or disgust to that of pure neutrality. The person doesn’t have to love their body, celebrate their body, put their body on display or think it’s beautiful. They simply have to take a neutral stance towards it.
Instead of focusing on the image of the body, body neutrality asks that those who engage with it focus on what the body can do. For example, instead of having a client stare in the mirror and say all the body parts they find beautiful, a therapist who practices from a body neutrality perspective will ask their clients to state the reasons that they love their body beyond its appearance. A client operating from body neutrality will report that they love their legs because they can walk or their breasts because they provide food for their newborn.
Body neutrality is also okay with the idea that some things about your body are just fine, or frustrating, and that’s fine too. It does not ask its practitioners to pose naked in the streets and scream with pride about their bodies. It only asks that its practitioners acknowledge that their body is a vessel to house the brain and that it has certain capabilities and needs in order to do so.
Body neutrality helps you realize the value of your body and your self in the world beyond visual stimulation. It’s a measured step to take for those deep in body-hate and helps open your mind up to seeing just how wonderful and worthy you (and your body!) are.
When therapists mention body neutrality, many clients react with confusion or believe that the therapist has misspoken. This is likely because the Body Positivity Movement has gone viral and is rife with controversy.
One of the most significant differences between body positivity and body neutrality is that body positivity remains image-focused. It asks someone who may have only ever experienced body-hate to make a giant leap into unwavering, unflinching, complete body love and acceptance. Many in recovery find this quite difficult, either outright resisting the concept of thinking the body is an acceptable thing to have, or going to extremes to focus on the areas that they deem worthy of praise.
If you’d like to change your relationship with your body, we can help. At Valued Living Therapy, we offer in-person therapy sessions in the Twin Cities area and via telehealth throughout Minnesota. We are inclusive of all relationships, sexual orientations, and identities, and passionate about helping you make lasting change to live your best life.