A Case for Body Neutrality

Allie Long
Sep 13, 2017 · 5 min read
(Source: Huffington Post Canada)

TW: Eating Disorders, Disordered Eating

I often wonder what it must be like to wake up in the morning with thoughts of anything other than food — to stop eating out of measuring cups or planning my meals around when and how I’ll be seen in public. I want to start my day moving toward something other than the scale. When I talk about body positivity, I apply its principles to everyone but myself.

I say all this knowing that my form of disordered eating is the acceptable narrative in our culture of which the result is desirable and even glamorized. I am thin, but it’s all I ever think about. Why am I not body positive when it should be effortless for someone like me?

Eating disorders and body positivity don’t need to go hand-in-hand, and eating disorders are certainly about more than weight and size; however, constant bombardment with #confidence and #everyBody is, in a sense, added pressure and another way many of us don’t or can’t fit the bill. But why?

A Vicious Cycle

Pop culture tells us — especially women — that we should love our bodies, and that if we love our bodies, we’ll do a specific set of things for it (self-care), which in turn, will make us love our bodies even more. And so on. We’ll eat expensive and healthy food, buy gimmicky skin products, and do trendy exercises. We’ll wear jeans with spandex, unapologetically eat Special K, and purchase condoms. We’ll sport bikinis at the hoity-toity pool, do our makeup (or not), and indulge in Fiber One brownies. We’ll do all this so that we can do more of it because it’s all in the name of self-love.

Instead of participating in the body positive/self-care trend because of self-love, though, it can often be construed as a path to these things when they’re absent from our lives. It’s like running on a treadmill; if we aren’t already unequivocally body positive, these things take us nowhere toward god knows what end simply because we think they’ll be good for us. Worse yet, they’re often marketed toward women who have the means to relentlessly pursue body positivity. Many people can’t afford that luxury.

Body positivity is more often aspirational than not and the pursuit of complete acceptance of who we are is unattainable, which makes it a perfect marketing tool. For once, it’d be nice if someone told women they don’t need to buy anything to be more body positive.

All About That Bass

In the world of our visible body positive icons, it’s all about bodies, and there’s no allowance for bad days. Intense and direct questions for women who deviate from the “norm” in even the slightest way about how they remain body positive centers our attention, ironically, on their bodies. “It’s obvious your ass is crinkly, so regale us with your inspiring approaches to overcoming that.” It’s always about loving a body in spite of its flaws or even because of them instead of just because it’s one’s own body. It’s about the clothes women wear to frame their crinkly asses in flattering pants, the cream they use to reduce cellulite, and the tightening exercises they do — not because they want to change but just because they love themselves! It’s never about normalizing bodies.

For example, plus sizes are still segregated from the other sizes, and companies make patronizing attempts to appeal to them while still ensuring their separateness remains overt.

Recognizing a diversity of bodies is good but constantly drawing attention to those differences can be counterproductive. The incessant need to ask people how they stay body positive or to tell them how beautiful they are 1) makes it all about their bodies under the guise of focusing on more than that and 2) assumes that they need external affirmations of beauty to even consider the possibility that they can be body positive. Compliments are nice, but they shouldn’t be seen as a favor on the part of the giver or a path to enlightenment for the receiver.

Loving our bodies in their “imperfection” isn’t some insurmountable feat, but even saying the word “imperfection” presumes there’s an ideal à la Plato’s realm of forms of which we are all just subpar derivatives. Body positivity isn’t gasp-worthy and to treat is as such makes us retreat back into constant dissection of our bodies.

There Are More Important Things

From a feminist perspective, body positivity is supposedly a remedy to patriarchal and colonial beauty standards, but it can be co-opted to redirect our attention from the root of the issue to our individual flesh prisons. “How do I make myself feel better about my body?” It leads to trends like the oxymoronic #freethenipple and its exclusive inclusivity; what ostensibly was meant to desexualize all breasts ultimately made people who didn’t have acceptable breasts invisible, but it made women who fit the norm feel less guilty. The goal was nice, but carrying it out relied on adherence to the very norms it tried to subvert. (i.e. it put small, perky boobs on display, which is the exact opposite of revolutionary.)

If anything, body positivity in pop culture reinforces harmful norms. Period. It does this by pitting fat women against thin women, and while thin women have thin privilege, the need for conflict between women perpetuates regressive ideas about women being “catty” and their relationships with each other being “volatile.” There isn’t a scarcity of success for women. For one to do well, another is not required to fail. Mainstream body positivity does nothing radical to dismantle the idea that the opposite is true.

It again focuses on the individual instead of the forces that coalesce to give us narrow beauty standards, stereotypically female behavior, and the use of bodies as a rubric — whether body negative or positive — for how we think about women.

Wouldn’t it be nice to not be constantly bombarded with messages about how we should or shouldn’t think about our bodies? Body positivity typically creates yet another unattainable standard and constraint for how we can view ourselves. Just because it disguises itself as liberating doesn’t mean it actually is.

As far as all this in tandem with my disordered eating, I’m probably a bit biased. Loud and proud body positivity works for some women, and that’s great. But some of us would like to go a whole day without giving the sheer appearance of our bodies one thought. Society needs to accommodate different types of bodies to facilitate this, yes, mainstream body positivity won’t do the legwork to accomplish that.

Will this single grain of rice make me bloated? Will I still feel good about my body after that? Will I be allowed to call myself body positive if I don’t? Will I still be a good feminist after that? Ugh, why am I making this all about me?

When institutions make us focus only on ourselves, we can’t combine our power to dismantle them, and the body positivity that’s permitted to be visible by the institutions that can profit from it won’t ever be a means to that end. I’m 100% positive.

Allie Long

Written by

Whatever the female equivalent of an opinion is || Raleigh, NC

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