CW: Mention of Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, anxiety, and depression.
Based on U.S. research, around ⅔ of all young people face some sort of insecurities about their body or have experienced body dysmorphia (Linardon). Body image issues often stem from insecurities about weight, hair, muscle mass, and skin concerns, like acne (Byrne and Young). These insecurities can sometimes lead to anxiety, depression, or eating disorders. Manifestations of body image issues include but are not limited to body preoccupation, body checking, body image avoidance, and thin-ideal internalization. Body preoccupation is thinking obsessively about your body’s appearance, whereas body checking is constantly weighing or critically observing your body. Alternatively, body image avoidance is avoiding looking at or “confronting” your body, and thin-ideal internalization is believing that all your problems would be fixed if you were thinner (Linardon).
Body dysmorphia can have a lot of different causes, and it can be debilitating. It can feel like everything in your life is a struggle because you’re uncomfortable in your body and nothing helps. It can be hard to move on from body image issues, and I struggled with it for years. Body positivity can sometimes come across as toxic because you can’t magically trick yourself into believing that your body is beautiful when you feel so strongly that it isn’t. However, the philosophy that has helped me the most is body neutrality.
Body neutrality is one way to mend your relationship with your body by appreciating it for what it does for you, not necessarily what it looks like. It focuses on the fact that you are not your body – your body is merely the physical vessel that carries you, and a small part of you overall. The point is to be at peace with your body, regardless of the stage your body is currently in (Sreenivas).
Focusing on all our bodies do for us on a daily basis challenges the misconceptions that fat = unhealthy or lazy and skinny = healthy or happy. Body neutrality is a healthier and more natural gateway into body positivity rather than forcing it or making people suppress their feelings towards their bodies.
Working on changing your mindset doesn’t usually happen overnight, but don’t be afraid to try, even if it takes time! Body neutrality isn’t necessarily something to be achieved but something to grow towards. Some ways to help reinforce body-neutral habits are (Sreenivas):
- Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable
- Cut out any negative or overly positive social media that could activate you
- Meditate, taking time to go from head to toe and think about everything your body is doing for you just to keep you alive in that moment
- Exercise for your own strength and well-being instead of trying to achieve a particular look
- Replace negative self-talk with neutral phrases
- Ex: Instead of saying “my nose is too big,” say “my nose allows me to smell some of my favorite scents”
- Think about some of your favorite things to do and how your body helps you do them
Your self-esteem should not have to be tied to what you look like or how you perceive yourself, as diet and body shaming culture have taught us. We have the power to start unlearning some of the harmful notions we’ve been taught since childhood. It’s okay to not completely heal and the expectation is not to never have a negative thought about your body ever again. That doesn’t mean that you haven’t improved, and progress isn’t linear, especially in the world of mental health.
Linardon, Jake. “Body Image Statistics 2023: 52+ Shocking Facts & Stats.” Break Binge Eating, 3 March 2023, breakbingeeating.com/body-image-statistics/#Body_Image_Statistics_For_Adults. Accessed 20 October 2023.
Byrne, Christine, and Allison Young. “Data Suggests a Majority of Kids Struggle With Body Image.” Everyday Health, 22 September 2022, everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/survey-suggests-two-thirds-of-kids-may-struggle-with-body-image/. Accessed 20 October 2023.
Sreenivas, Shishira. “Body Neutrality: What to Know.” WebMD, 20 January 2023, webmd.com/beauty/what-is-body-neutrality. Accessed 14 November 2023.