“Would you fuck me? I wouldn’t fuck me.” I was having a big time case of the sads and throwing myself one hell of a pity party. Population: this guy. And while my friend assured me that she indeed “would fuck me” in the kind of tone reserved for calming a nervous dog, we both knew this wasn’t a question of fuckabilty and a whole lot to with how I feel about my own body and on a larger scale, my mental health.
Body positivity has got its fair share of flack in recent years. While for many it’s empowering, a performative act not only of self acceptance but self-love it can make many feel so lacking because that jump to feeling “cute, might delete later” #bodypositivity feels like too high a hurdle to clear. It’s prevelance has led to campaigns that are getting more inclusive and allowing people to find bodies similair to theres online, but inherently it is tied to physicality and feeling beautiful. Now feeling your oats is great and all (please do) however what about when you can’t quite get there. I mean crying in from of the mirror is great and all but what about body neutrality?
While body positivity has been an act of loving your body that kind of mental gymnastics can be emotionally taxing and still perpetuates the idea that value is found in how we look. Body neutrality is more about recongising that your body isn’t the most important thing about you or where you should derive your value from. For some this means being grateful for what your body does for you – walking to work, dancing with friends – but even this feels so tied in the physical. The idea that “you should be grateful for what your body does for you” is a sentiment that is ableist – erasing chronic illness or disability. Gratitude here is fine if you can but it isn’t the bee all and end all.
Body neutrality though is/can/should be about value being from who you are and the things that make up you as a person. Are you funny? Smart? Considered? Ambitious? Are you curious or creative or patient? Body neutrality doesn’t ask you to love body every day, or even hate it – but acknowledge that it’s a thing. But not the most important thing. We’re just a bunch of messy weirdos wondering about in big meat suits after all. Do what you want with the window dressing but that isn’t all. It isn’t your, for lack of a better word, soul.
Eating disorder awareness week has seen the idea of body neutrality presented as an alternative. I know for my own mental health – at its very worst can and has manifested in disordered eating. It was way to project my anxieties and depressive thoughts in to something tangible and managable rather than really getting under the hood. It would be going to a friends for dinner, balling my hand in a fist and doing the mental calculations on calories silently in the absense of a scale. It would be travelling to a friends wedding and packing perfectly weighted our meals for every day I was there. It would be using self-imposed dietary restrictions to hide what I was doing (a daliance in to vegetarianism, not drinking because of training, telling people I just “weren’t that in to carbs”) or some other bullshit. It would be moving around things on my plate or counting the minutes before I could leave to the bathroom to throw up.
It was typing out “you” do these things rather than “I” and havivng to go back to change it all because doing those things never felt like a problem at the time, and it often feels like it was someone else.
Scottish blogger Ruth Macgilp touched on body neutrality in her post “How fashion can empower self acceptance” (which yes, that’s a plug and you should absaloutley read it.) For Macgilp “As cheesy as that that sounds, working towards embracing ‘body neutrality’ has actually been a really empowering process – avoiding any ‘extreme’ feelings either way about my body and its countless illogical hangups, and instead fully accepting my body as just that – a body, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing to do with my self-worth.” I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet but body neutrality looks like a process and excersise in healing and gratitude worth undertaking.
Body positivity is fine, great even. Post the selfie if you feel cute – it can be so fucking hard to find those moments where we feel okay, or better than in our own skin and those moments are totally a merit for celebration. But a body is a body, cellulite, belly rolls, wrinkles and all, it isn’t you, and practicing a bit of body neutrality, is anything but neutral – it’s pretty god damn great.
Pics c/o Harri Golightly