A MIDDLE GROUND
Body positivity feeling a long way off? Slip into neutral
Every step, no matter how slow, is progress,’ reads one. ‘I want to feel at ease and accept how I look,’ reads another. They are reasonable, achievable, sensible statements. And that’s precisely the point. The language of loving your body is changing. Amid the roar of positivity – the activists, the panel talks, the memes – a more subdued but no-less powerful phenomenon is pushing forward. It’s the understanding that not everyone can easily achieve out and proud, shout-it-from-the-rooftops love for their body; that sometimes even tolerance is a battle. This is the premise of body neutrality, a credo that prioritises baseline acceptance. To understand how we got here, it’s helpful to know where we’ve come from. The term ‘body positivity’ is thought to have been coined in the 1990s by feminist activists Connie Sobczak and Deb Burgard. It gained traction online, where a vocal community began to use digital platforms to share thoughts, feelings, hopes and anxieties about their bodies. Only, for some, the idea of loving, hell, even liking your body, was setting the bar a little too high. In recent years, body neutrality has emerged as an alternative for those who needed it the most – those whose self-confidence was at its lowest ebb. Its proponents argue that the emphasis the body-positive movement placed on feeling good all the time and the continued focus on the body was actually breeding negative thoughts and poor body image – the opposite of its intended outcome. Now, the notion of neutral is gaining ground fast. Vocal advocates such as TV presenter Jameela Jamil are encouraging conversation around the topic and the Instagram hashtag boasts 3,000 posts and counting.
‘It’s about accepting your body despite any perceived imperfections,’ explains Dr Bryony Bamford, clinical director at the London Centre for Eating Disorders and Body Image. ‘In doing so, you stop allowing those perceptions to impact on your emotions or day-to-day life the way they do for those who have particularly poor body image. For these women, the jump from disliking or even hating their bodies to loving them is a vast one.’ That unrealistic leap is an idea that even the most vocal in the body-positive movement acknowledge.