Body Positivity vs. Body Neutrality

What Each One Is and How a Dual Approach May Be Best

Woman standing in front of the mirror, observing their appearance in two different instances (body positivity and body neutrality).

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

When you aren't accepting of your body, it can lead to more negative emotions and could even contribute to the development of an eating disorder. Two approaches for being more accepting of your body—imperfections and all—are body positivity and body neutrality.

Here we explore what these approaches mean, as well as how they came about (the body positivity and body neutrality movements). While each has its own value, adopting both practices can help lead to greater acceptance of your body and what it can do.

One survey found that 83% of women and 74% of men are dissatisfied with their physical appearance at one time or another, with this dissatisfaction occurring most often when looking in a mirror, in a bathing suit, or when clothes shopping.

What Is Body Positivity?

Body positivity refers to having a positive view of your physical body, regardless of its shape, size, or other appearance-related attributes. It involves loving your body for what it is, even if it isn't "perfect" according to society's standards.

An example of body positivity is to look in the mirror and say out loud all of the things you like about your physique. You might say, "I love the way my arms look in this shirt," or, "While my tummy isn't flat, it is still beautiful."

What Is Body Neutrality?

Body neutrality is different from body positivity in that it doesn't involve always loving your body but is more about being accepting of it. Also, instead of concentrating on your physical appearance, with body neutrality, the focus is more on the body's abilities and non-physical characteristics.

An example of body neutrality is saying to yourself, "My body is great in that it enables me to engage in activities I enjoy," or, "My body is amazing in that it gave me two wonderful children." Body neutrality is about appreciating what your body can do as opposed to concentrating on how it looks.

History of Body Positivity and Body Neutrality

The push for greater acceptance of our physical bodies is nothing new. It started with the body positivity movement, which then transitioned into a movement toward body neutrality.

The Body Positivity Movement

The body positivity movement originated in the 1960s as a form of "anti-fatness activism." Its goal was to break the link existing between weight and personal worth, reinforcing that everyone deserves dignity, respect, and fair treatment regardless of body shape and size.

The body positivity movement sought changes within schools, places of employment, and in advertising. It also worked to change negative patterns of thought within the medical community, challenging the notion that a person's weight is inherently tied to their health or that it is a sign of poor hygiene or noncompliance.

Despite its well-intentioned goals, the push for body positivity has faced some challenges. One is that it is focused solely on appearance. Another is that, while being positive about your body can help improve mental health, it cannot be ignored that carrying too much weight has negative impacts on physical health and, subsequently, lifespan.

Additionally, it isn't realistic to expect people to love everything about their bodies all the time. How do you get around these drawbacks of body positivity? You work toward body neutrality instead.

The Body Neutrality Movement

The body neutrality movement came into existence around 2015, gaining in popularity even more when a certified intuitive eating counselor and eating disorder specialist named Anne Poirier started to use the phrase "body neutrality" to help patients develop a healthy balance between diet and exercise.

The thought behind this approach is that we are more than just a body. We are complex human beings with a variety of dimensions. Plus, a large portion of our physical attributes are outside our control as they are determined, for the most part, by genetics.

Since body neutrality isn't focused on appearance, it allows us to appreciate all the things that our body allows us to do. Whether this involves engaging in our favorite physical activities, or even something as simple as making it possible to hug our loved ones, body neutrality recognizes the value our physical being provides.

Benefits of a Dual Approach

Although body neutrality was designed to help overcome the challenges of the body positivity movement, there are benefits of developing a view of your body that encompasses both approaches. This type of dual approach enables you to enjoy the benefits of each.

These benefits include:

  • Body positivity can help boost mood while reducing negative thoughts. It also enables us to be happy with our bodies regardless of what society says about them or in spite of negative messages we might have received during childhood.
  • Body neutrality is a good approach for when being positive doesn't feel genuine or is too big of a step to take. It removes the pressure of loving your body when you might not, only asking that you accept it as it is and appreciate it for what it can do for you.

We are ever-changing human beings, which means that some days we will love our bodies while on other days, self-love may feel like a bit too much to ask. By incorporating both body positivity and body neutrality into our lives, we are able to select the approach most in line with our thinking on any given day.

How to Adopt Body Positivity and Body Neutrality

When you get out of bed each morning, ask yourself which way of thinking aligns with how you feel. Based on your mindset, are you ready to love your physical appearance? Or do you feel like being positive is too much to ask at the moment, so you'd rather focus on being neutral and appreciating what your body can do?

If you'd like to focus on body positivity that day, you can do this by engaging in a few select actions:

  • Find things you love about your physical appearance and say them out loud, such as "I love my long legs" or "My shoulders look great in this sleeveless shirt."
  • Repeat positive affirmations throughout the day, like "I am happy the way I am."
  • Stop your mind when it starts to make comparisons between your body and someone else's as there is no one "perfect" body type.
  • Watch online videos focused on promoting body positivity and self-love.

If you decide that body neutrality is best for the day, here are some actions you can take:

  • Post notes in your home and workspaces, reminding you to continue to work toward the acceptance of your body—flaws and all.
  • Recite statements about the value your body provides, such as "I appreciate my body for making it possible to complete my house and yardwork."
  • Work on your mindfulness, noticing all the ways that your body serves you throughout the day.

A Word From Verywell

While it may not be realistic to love your body all the time, you can still appreciate it for all that it can do. Practice self-love when you can and self-acceptance on days when loving your body may feel like too much. Both have valuable purposes, enabling you to choose the one that feels most appropriate at the time.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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