WHAT IS BODY NEUTRALITY + 5 WAYS TO PRACTISE IT
“My body is not yours to critique and discuss. My body is not yours for consumption. My body is my vessel. An archive of experiences. A weapon that has fought battles only I understand. A library of love, pain, struggle, victory, and mystery. Your eyes cannot define all it has endured. Do not place value upon my body, place it upon my being.” ~ Sophie Lewis
“Body Neutrality” is a mindful practice of self-acceptance, where you focus on what your body can do, rather than what it looks like, separating self-worth from body image. Rather than being “body positive” it invites you to make peace with your body and respect the whole person that you are, just as you are.
We’ve probably all looked in the mirror at some point in our lives and judged a specific area of our body as not looking the way we’d like it to. While that may seem harmless enough, ruminating over our appearance or body shape adversely affects our mental health and overall sense of wellbeing.
A few weeks ago I was visiting my dad, who at 78 prides himself on his “fit, trim frame.” As I was leaving, his partner commented on how “scrawny” I looked. “No, she’s not,” my dad defended. “Look how big her thighs are!”
I’m grateful to now be in a place to not let these kinds of comments land, as they did for the first half of my life. But it prompted me to reflect that if I won’t allow others to speak this way about my body, why would I do it to myself?
The answer lies in mainstream politics, popular culture, and traditional and social media, which by-and-large still perpetuates an unattainable, objectifying view of women’s bodies (even more so in the ‘fitness industry’), and excludes people of colour, trans people, and people who are older or in larger bodies or differently abled. While shift is happening, we’ve got a long way to go…
Until age 30 when I stepped into Nia, I didn’t even realise that my low self-worth and disrespect for my body came from systemic and family conditioning. The idea of loving my body when it was so far from what I perceived as ideal seemed impossible, just something else I was failing at.
No surprise, I instantly resonated with Nia’s feel good to look good, beauty from the inside out philosophy. Through Nia’s body-centred education, the more I learned about the miraculous workings of the body, the more I let go of worrying about appearances and began to appreciate and be in awe of my own body. This is also the philosophy and psychology of body neutrality, a term that was coined in 2010. Nia began in 1983.
With mindful practices of body awareness and body gratitude, Nia teaches us to ask, “What is my body telling me right now?” Maybe it needs a glass of water, a shift in posture, some deep breaths, a hug, or a dance break. Learning to communicate neutrally with your body can make a big difference to your physical and mental health. Over time your body-mind will feel more at peace because you’re listening, responding to its messages, and saying thank you for what feels better.
Rather than giving energy to how our body looks, in Nia we tune in and choose to do what makes our body feel alive, a sensation and vibration that promotes health in every cell, organ and body system. Joy is not always being smiley, upbeat and positive. It’s about being real – acknowledging the often-heartbreaking truth of our human experience AND sensing the boundlessness of our spirit.
Through Nia I’ve learned a body neutrality mindset – to cherish and care for my body as a sacred temple of self-healing; as a vessel that has carried and birthed 3 children; as a life partner that keeps my heart pumping and my breath flowing, even with pain, illness or exhaustion; as a wise guide that only speaks truth about what I am thinking and feeling; as my soul’s home in this one precious life.
As I move through menopause, Nia’s body neutral approach is helping me embrace “The Change” even if I don’t always love it. Listening to my intuitive body, I’m tweaking my diet/nutrition, sleep, movement, play, and pleasure. Most of the time I feel fantastic! When I don’t, brain fog, bloating, restlessness, and moodiness lets me know I need to tweak again. Thank you, body.
It’s ok not to feel body positive all the time – we are all made of strength and struggle. Everybody is worthy of love, even in the moments when we do not love ourselves. Peace comes when we practise self-acceptance, authenticity and body gratitude. In Nia, you belong, just as you are.
5 WAYS TO PRACTISE BODY NEUTRALITY
- Prioritize and celebrate health, not weight loss/gain.
- Nurture and nourish your body – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Practice intuitive eating.
- Find a movement practice (like Nia!) that is adaptable, intuitive and forgiving, rather than a “one size fits all” approach. When you feel low on energy, don’t give yourself a hard time for taking it easy.
- Do not comment on another’s body size, even if it’s meant as a compliment.
- When you notice yourself criticising your body, consider instead what it’s doing for you in the moment. Focus on its strength and ability to heal, to move, to adapt.