top of page
Search

Coming to Peace with the War on Your Body: Stepping Toward Body Neutrality

Updated: Jan 13

- Teresa Jacobson, DBH, LPCC-S, NCC

May 3, 2023



We've all done it. We've heard our mothers, our fathers, our sisters, brothers, friends, coworkers, and most audibly ourselves. We bully our own bodies, criticize, even hate aspects of it. We say we have too much this, too little of that. We compare ourselves to others, we belittle our battles in life. We shame ourselves for not looking the way we desire to, or how we think others want us to. We never feel good enough, thin enough, fit enough. This inhumane war has to end. Its time for a cease-fire.



Body image includes "the way in which we perceive our body, attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts we have towards it" (Gardam, Kokenberg-Gallant, Kaur, St. John, Carbonneau, & Guimond, 2023). Perceived body image varies between people and includes of multiple dimensions such as perception, thoughts, feelings, and behavior.


Negative body image has become a public health issue impacting children as young as 6 years of age. While it's horrifying to think this reckless, demeaning construct has impacted so many and at such a young age; becoming a public health issue does put it more in the spotlight for research and change, which can lead to a healthier journey for so many in the future.


Disturbances in body image have been established as “the most consistent and robust causal risk factor" for all eating disorders for men and women (Lacroix, Smith, Husain, Orth & Ranson, 2023). "In addition to eating disorders, negative body image predicts many other adverse outcomes, including poorer overall physical and mental health; depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem; avoidance of social interactions; cigarette smoking initiation; and negative sexual health outcomes." The term "normative discontent" was coined as a result of the prevalence of negative body image as it become more "normal" to have a body image concern than not to. But just because something is normal does not mean it is good.


In adults, research shows up to 61% males and 72% females have reported "body dissatisfaction". Lacroix and colleagues (2023) also report 40-50% of children ages 6-12 reported dissatisfaction with at least one aspect of their body size or shape, and 70% of adolescent girls have reported a desire to change their weight or shape. That is a lot of discontent.


In the recent pandemic and quarantine restrictions that began in the spring of 2020 in the U.S., there was an emergence of the "Covid-15" hashtag that was coined due to the fear many had of gaining 15 pounds during isolation due to lack of exercise, movement, and food from restrictions (Parcell, Jeon, & Rodgers, 2023). "This hashtag fueled a new social media trend known as 'Quarantine 15', on various social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, with posts mostly by young women between the ages of 18–25. Content analyses of the posts associated with this hashtag have revealed that they strongly promoted the thin-ideal and weight bias, mostly portraying smaller bodied individuals with low weight, and weight stigmatizing commentary." The power of social media and this content became toxic to the young adults viewing it, outlining just one example of the role of culture and social media in unhealthy body image messaging.


With greater risk of eating disorders, poorer emotional and physical health, lower self esteem and other negative consequences, we have to find healthier ways to think about our own human forms.


Social media has also been sharing messages related to the body positive movement that is "focused on body acceptance, self-compassion, and self-care." (Parcell, Jeon, & Rodgers, 2023). "The content offered a counter narrative in which the focus was on taking care of the self and others, while resisting pandemic-related anxiety related to weight and appearance."


While body positivity and body acceptance has been a welcoming change, a new construct has been emerging in the literature: body neutrality. "Think about what your body can do for you--and what you can do for your body" (Frates, 2022). The focus with body neutrality is on the function of the body, not appearance.


Poirier (2022) describes body neutrality as "a resting place from the constant chaotic chatter and criticism of your own mind. Its a space where you can find some peace and take some pressure off yourself (while simultaneously lowering your stress level). Body neutrality is a shift in perspective, from body hatred, disgust, and dislike, to body appreciation and respect." Body neutrality is honoring the body for all that it is, and all it can accomplish.


Body neutrality emphasizes the amazing "functions, actions, and physiology of our bodies without regard for how our bodies look" (Frates, 2022). "A body that is in the neutral point on the wellness spectrum can move to the side of thriving and flourishing when healthy lifestyle habits are adopted and sustained, and that has little to do with your body's shape or size."


Strategies to reach body neutrality include (Smith, Ahuvia, Ito, & Schleider, 2023):

  • Stopping unwanted body-oriented and "diet" conversations and cleaning up social media feeds

  • Reframing the purpose behind activity and nutrition for health and wellbeing

  • Replacing automatic negative self-talk with body neutral statements with a focus on strengths

  • Extinguishing the thought that one’s body is "good" or "bad"

  • Writing down 3 things each day that you appreciate about what your body can do for you

Helpful messages you can give yourself with self-compassion and nurturing in a body-neutral way include:

My arms allow me to hug those I love.

My legacy is not my pant size.

I am more than what people see.

I can love all that I am just the way I am.

I value all of me.

My muscles help me walk and run.

My size does not define my worth.


We have a responsibility to ourselves and our loved ones to end the demeaning war on our bodies and self-worth. Taking a stance and calling a truce is not surrender. It's defeating the enemy, one bully, one insult, one harsh, inner critic at a time.



 


Teresa Jacobson is a Doctor of Behavioral Health and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Supervisor who is counseling Ohio and Kentucky adults of all ages and life experiences via secure Telehealth/Video visits. A strength-based, person-centered multi-cultural counselor, with an existential philosophy, Teresa can be reached by emailing teresa@steppingtowardserenity.org, calling (513) 206-3026, or visiting https://www.steppingtowardserenity.org


 

References


Frates, E. P. (2022, April 14). Moving to wellness while practicing body neutrality. Harvard Health


Gardam, O., Kokenberg-Gallant, L., Kaur, S., St. John, E., Carbonneau, N. and Guimond, F.A. (2023). Parent

and child influence in body image dissatisfaction: The moderating effect of parent acceptance

of the COVID-19 pandemic. Body Image 45, 183-191. Retrieved from


Horn, N. (2021). Body neutrality. Sociology Student Work Collection. 75.

Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.tacoma.uw.edu/gender_studies/75


Lacroix, E., Smith, A.J., Husain, I.A., Orth, U., and von Ranson, K.M. (2023). Normative body image

development: A longitudinal meta-analysis of mean-level change. Body Image 45, 238-264.


Parcell, L., Jeon, S., Rodgers, R.F. (2023). Effects of COVID-19 specific body positive and diet culture

related social media content on body image and mood among young women. Body Image, 44, 1-


Poirier, A. (2022). 5 steps to body neutrality.

National Eating Disorder Association Blog. Retrieved from


Smith, A.C., Ahuvia, I., Ito, S., Schleider, J.L. (2023). Project body neutrality: Piloting a digital single-

session intervention for adolescent body image and depression. Retrieved from











bottom of page