Body Positivity V. Body Toxicity: The unknown third option

Me (Jacquelyn Sharga) vibing with my body as what it is. | Angie Colón

What to do when body positivity stops being positive…

The line between body positivity and toxicity over the years has sadly decreased in size and visibility, which has left many people wondering if either are good ideas to commit to. What not enough people know about is a third option: Body Neutrality. 

Body neutrality is still a fairly new perspective of body image and has yet to secure relevance within society, but the basic building blocks that make up its message are there and are being discussed.

Body neutrality is the act of prioritizing the body’s function, rather than its external perception. Body neutrality doesn’t mean you have to love it like body positivity or hate it like body toxicity, you can simply feel neutral towards it.

“I have never heard of body neutrality specifically,” said Saddleback College student Cyrena Guyot. “However, the concept is something that I would find interesting, because I’m all for body positivity, but of course, I know that’s a hard thing for a lot of people to wrap their head around.”

Since not many people have heard about body neutrality, the origins of it take some digging to find, but it actually came to be due to the underlying toxicity within body positivity. Although the overarching message of body positivity is good, there are definitely cons that should be brought to light through the discussion of body neutrality.

In the article Forget Body Positivity, How About Body Neutrality? by Marisa Meltzer, a feeling of relief should wash over every reader within the first few sentences. There are many people in this world who have faced the unspoken ugly head of this body “positivity,” whether that be through passive aggressiveness towards or gatekeeping body types, it’s not something that is easy to talk about, but with body neutrality, the third option of staying neutral on the matter, while still hearing out both sides and respecting your human body for its human functions is made both possible and realistically achievable.

With just about any movement these days comes media traction, but body neutrality has yet to pick up much of any form of media gain due to the lack of awareness surrounding it. It goes without saying that there is weight stigma and stereotypes in the media, but there is also an underlying, peer-pressure-like quality that makes people feel as though they have to either love or hate their body.

The article Weight stigma and media: An examination of the effect of advertising campaigns on weight bias, internalized weight bias, self-esteem, body image, and affect by Jennifer C.Selensky and Robert A.Carels explains the media’s overall negative effect on self image and secretive disdain towards personal growth. Similarly to what has been previously mentioned, although body neutrality is not something many people know about, Selensky and Carels touch on the fact that it is something that would be so beneficial in the long run for humanity.

“Positive campaigns reported significantly improved self-esteem and positive affect,” said Selensky. “In our study we saw that women found the campaigns to have positive, uplifting, and empowering messages. Aerie’s and Dove’s acceptance-promoting advertising campaigns positively influenced self-esteem and mood, and they are potential tools for weight bias reduction, therefore proving that advertisements and media have the potential to impact weight-based attitudes in society.”

Not only would body neutrality be helpful in the real world, but even in the world of media. Social media is the perfect place to gain coverage and spread the word about this third option being available.

Furthermore, body neutrality is meant as the devil’s advocate for body image, and it’s a really important idea to spread awareness on behalf of. For college students, insecurity and self doubt are not uncommon feelings, so its relevance, or lack thereof within the media can definitely have an effect on their overall peace of mind in the long run, and in this case, that could very much be body neutrality. 

If Feminism is considered to be a “living thing,” because of how it is constantly growing and changing, then body positivity and toxicity are living things too. Feminists have been able to make their presence known throughout the media known, and have effectively made a difference in regards to the relationship between women and social media. 

Body neutrality could be something to quite literally neutralize any negativity that could stem from either side of the body positivity movement, playing as somewhat of a devil’s advocate, but has not been given the opportunity to effectively do so since not many people know about it.

Body neutrality has yet to gain anywhere near as much attention as both sides of body positivity have over the years, but it’s definitely possible that through media traction, body neutrality too could be split into two sides. However, unlike the opposed sides surrounding body positivity, the averse arguments for body neutrality would still be spreading the overall message of it, which is to be content with the basic function of one’s body.

“I think body neutrality is the true key to self-image,” said CSUF student Yenví Leduc. “It is contentment with how you already are and you don’t give your appearance or weight a second thought. The mindset is: if you feel healthy, then you are healthy.” 

After doing just a little research, it’s  clear to see that body neutrality has good things to offer, but not just anyone can shift their perspective in order to reap the benefits the notion has to offer. It is not the easiest task to switch into a new point of view and immediately implement it into ones’ everyday life right away. Habits are hard to break, but mindsets are extremely difficult to shift out of after a certain amount of time. 

It can be as simple as one sentence or as challenging as months of therapy to change a person’s outlook. Sometimes answers are not what people need in response to questions, which there will be plenty of when starting the journey to a better and healthier mindset/perception on one’s body. 

“Your mind is not exhausted with analysis of your physique,” said Leduc. “Because you just don’t think about it often or at all. That’s what body neutrality means to me, and it’s important because it eliminates an element of self-critique.” 

Sometimes just knowing whether or not they can properly communicate these questions at all, with others yes, but with themselves is what’s truly important.

Body toxicity is just another form of violence against women. This form, however, can be swept under the rug, because for some unknown reason people still can’t seem to understand that words can hurt even more than actions. 

Somebody who has already been violated, can be violated again by not being able to give their consent when universities want to report their hardships,” said Saddleback College’s Women’s Studies professor Malia Womack. “Violence against women is a national and global longstanding epidemic that can be found in far too many shapes and forms.”

In order to integrate the acceptance of body neutrality into one needs to be able to pinpoint and communicate with themself exactly what it is that they want out of the overall experience. It could be anything from a healthier mindset, to lifestyle changes, to gaining emotional trust and support within themselves.

In conclusion, not enough people know about body neutrality and that needs to change. Rather than focusing on the cons of body positivity, provide the knowledge and opportunity of a new outlook on ones’ self and others. It’s not like body positivity does more bad than for the world, but body neutrality provides the refinement that the ladder lacks.