Understanding Body Positivity, Body Acceptance, and Body Neutrality

A woman in a larger body with her arms out smiling with a pretty street behind her

It can be hard to differentiate between body positivity, body acceptance, and body neutrality, especially if all three of those terms are new to you. One day, you can love your body, and the next day you may struggle with your appearance. Negative body image is a common symptom in most eating disorders, and with eating disorders affecting approximately 30 million Americans and disordered eating affecting 65 percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 45, you could argue that America has a desperate need for movements like body positivity, body acceptance, and body neutrality. Continue reading to learn more about these ideas and how they can help in eating disorder recovery.

Body Positivity

Body positivity is a social movement that promotes equality and acceptance for bodies of all types and sizes. “One of the goals [of body positivity] is to challenge how our society, particularly all forms of media, presents and views the physical human body,” says Kristen Fuller, MD, in her article on Verywell Mind. It is probably the most well-known out of all three concepts. The body positivity movement was started in the 1960s and was created by and for those in marginalized bodies, including larger bodies, Black, queer, and disabled bodies. Body positivity was created in order to advocate for people who experience discrimination based on how they look. 

Negative body image is a common symptom in most eating disorders. Because of this, practicing body positivity can be a great tool in recovery. Body positivity is all about changing how you think about your body instead of changing your body itself. Despite the negative thoughts that your eating disorder may have conditioned you to believe, body positivity is all about telling yourself that your body is worthy. It is important to note that working on body positivity is helpful in recovery, but it cannot replace treatment. 

Body Acceptance 

The difference between body positivity and body acceptance is that with body acceptance, you don’t have to be thrilled with your body every minute, but instead you can figure out how to accept it. This may be especially helpful for those in recovery, as it does not require body love, which can feel like an overwhelming goal. Some think that body positivity does not leave room for insecurities and frustrations, and that loving your body every day is not realistic. Alternatively, acceptance is treating our bodies with respect and care, including all of our deepest insecurities, and knowing that some days will be harder than others. In the end, body acceptance is about reflecting on why you feel negatively toward your body and how you can find peace with your body without needing to change it.

Body Neutrality

Instead of focusing on loving how your body looks no matter what or on accepting your body as it is, body neutrality is a philosophy that believes bodies are neither good nor bad. Body neutrality is also the idea that we can still care for our bodies even if we don’t view them positively. It is a relatively new concept, popularized by bloggers, celebrities, and intuitive eating coaches who have helped to promote the idea that physical appearance does not determisne self-worth. Body neutrality does not require that you love your body all the time, which can be a heavy ask for people who have been taught to hate their bodies for years and even decades. 

Utilizing These Ideas in Eating Disorder Recovery

Remember that body positivity, body acceptance, and body neutrality can co-exist–you do not need to choose only one to aid in your recovery. You may start eating disorder recovery by working on body neutrality; viewing your body in a neutral way may be your gateway into accepting and loving it. Then you may enter a phase of recovery where body acceptance seems possible. It is possible to eventually reach a point in recovery where you have body-positive days and you will feel an outpouring of genuine love for your body. Your recovery journey will not be a straight line, but these tools can help you along the way. It’s okay if you can’t live up to these ideas every day. You are not a failure. Recovery is a process and it takes time. 

It is essential that we never forget that what our bodies look like and what our bodies can do are not the only things that make us valuable; we are complex human beings with amazing qualities that are deserving of love. All three movements have value in shifting our culture and creating a better world for those that are marginalized. Whether you’re working toward body positivity, body acceptance, body neutrality, or all three, we hope that you now understand them a little better. 

If you are struggling with food or body image, The Emily Program is here for you. From providing eating disorder assessments to various levels of eating disorder treatment, The Emily Program walks with you during all stages of healing. To learn more, call 1-888-364-5977 or get started online today.

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