Yep, ok, so maybe I have a simple mind. But hear me out here.
I think I’ve been going about my journey towards falling in love with my body all wrong. And I didn’t quite realise this until I saw a post on Instagram the other day.
One of my favourite Instagram accounts, Megan Jayne Crabbe aka @bodyposipanda posted an illustration about self-love, alongside a caption that made something in my head ‘click’. She was talking about ‘body neutrality’ – a concept I’d never heard of, or even thought about before, until reading those words on her post.
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This week at an event someone asked me what I thought about body neutrality, so I thought I'd share it here: Honestly, it's unreasonable to expect anyone to jump from a lifetime of hating their body straight into unwavering self love. That is setting people up for disappointment. It took YEARS of toxic conditioning to reach the point you're at with your body, you're not expected to be able to undo it all overnight. And let's say you've decided that you're 100% on board with body positivity and you believe that you shouldn't have to fight against your body for the rest of your life. Even then, you are still existing in a diet culture that tells you the opposite in thousands of little ways every day. And if you exist in a marginalised body, you are still existing in a society deeply ingrained with prejudice that you're forced to face daily. It would be straight up unrealistic to NEVER have your body acceptance or self worth waver facing that. I think most days, even getting to body neutrality is a victory worth celebrating. Being able to feel neutral about the fact that your body is your body and get on with your days without giving it all that much thought? That's an incredible achievement. And for most of us, that's a much more attainable goal than feeling like you're Beyoncé everyday. You are not a failure if you don't love your body right now. I repeat: YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE IF YOU DON'T LOVE YOUR BODY RIGHT NOW. You are doing the best you can in a culture that sells body shame at every turn. And I think even attempting to unlearn that shame makes you fucking amazing. 💜💙💚🌈🌞 Art by @bethdrawsthings 🌸
So, paraphrasing, Megan explains that, actually, it’s ok for us not to feel unwavering self-love. Especially for people (like me) who have been living life hating their bodies for years.
And when I think about it, that makes total sense.
Maybe I’ve been setting myself up for disappointment, by expecting to suddenly start loving and embracing my body as it is – because, for the majority of the 24 years that I’ve been gracing the earth, I’ve been doing exactly the opposite.
For as long as I can remember I’ve had parts of myself that I wanted to change, so how can I expect that train of thought to suddenly cease? Well, frankly, I can’t. But the thing is, I think I’ve missed a step. Now I understand that maybe there’s a bit you reach before you gain self-love, and this is what body neutrality is; being able to feel neutral about the fact that my body is my body and get on with my days without giving it all that much thought.
But, the reality is, I think about my body a lot. I find it quite scary to think about how often negative thoughts of the way I look (and what other people think of the way I look) cross my mind. I mean, it’s definitely daily. Some days those thoughts are more intrusive than others, and some days I actually feel great about myself – but those days are much rarer than I’d like.
But, the important thing is, however slowly it might be taking, I know that I am getting there. I haven’t weighed myself since before Christmas and I’m finding that the more time that passes, the less I have any inclination to step back on the scales.
I used to religiously note my body fat percentage at my gym as a way of tracking progress, but I now see that as a complete and total waste of time, too. It didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to my life, knowing what my body fat or muscle mass totals were, other than being a way for me to punish myself, if they weren’t quite what I thought they should be.
So, I’ve stopped weighing myself and, although I think I genuinely was addicted to exercise for a while, I’ve regained a bit of stability. I’ve started trying to place more emphasis on the other things in my life – although I love the fitness world, there are other things outside of the gym that I’m good at, and plenty of things that bring me joy, too.
Read more about my experience of exercise addiction.
Something that has really helped me recently is Jameela Jamil’s Instagram movement, I Weigh. I really get on board with people that want to make a difference, to change the way we talk about important issues like self-acceptance and body image. So, if you haven’t already had a look at her campaign, I’d really encourage you to!
Delving a little deeper into the backstory of my mental health, I can see why I’ve had such a muddled journey in trying to be body positive. I think my problem is that I’ve often felt stuck between a rock and a hard place.
My weight yo-yoed between the ages of 18 and 21 because I had a consistently bad relationship with food and exercise. I went from hating exercise to being obsessive about exercising. I went from binge eating to eating restrictively. No matter what my body looked like, I still didn’t like it.
And, I really believe that it’s only been more recently, since becoming less concerned with my weight, that my relationship with food and exercise has dramatically improved. I now eat intuitively – listening to my body for hunger cues, and recognising what is genuine hunger versus emotional/boredom eating. I also LOVE group exercise, which really helps me maintain my physical fitness. However, I still experience a lot of guilt and shame – the hangover from my diet culture obsessed days.
I have been guilty of constantly comparing my body, not only to other women around me and on social media, but also to what I used to look like. Sadly, until about a year ago, I still wanted to regain the body that I had when I was at my sickest with disordered eating.
I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be at peace with myself, let alone love myself.
So I’m at this place where body neutrality really speaks to me – it seems like a white flag amidst the war zone of thoughts going on in my mind. The thing is, I don’t really see the pressure that I put on myself easing up any more than it already has done – particularly as we head towards the summer months, which for me (like I’m sure for many others) is a really triggering time for my mental health issues to resurface.
But, this year, instead of trying to proclaim love for the way I look, I’m going to aim to be neutral about my body. So, I’m making a few promises to myself that, this summer, things will be different:
- I won’t use negative language to talk about my body, or those of other women around me.
- I will try to reframe the language of others when I hear body-shaming comments.
- I will continue to champion body-positivity and try to move towards that frame of thought, but, equally, I will recognise the bad self-confidence days as temporary blips.
I’m hoping that these small steps will really help not only me, but others around me – because I know for certain that I’m not facing these struggles alone.