My Body Is the Least Important Thing About Me

Body neutrality is a necessary alternative to body positivity – but neither can end body based oppression.


Julia Sperling

Body neutrality is all about accepting your body and listening to its needs and limitations. We only get one body for our whole life, so treat it nicely!

Insecurity is profit in today’s modern world. Hate your wrinkles? Great, here’s an anti-aging cream. Hate your thighs? Wonderful, here’s a diet plan. All at a cost, of course. When we look at our bodies and decide we want to change them, we scour for products and methods to do so. Ultimately, insecurity ends up feeding the companies who helped breed it in the first place. And a company that profits on us hating ourselves will never want us to find self-acceptance. 

The body positivity movement attempts to combat this with the assertion that all bodies are beautiful; we all deserve to love our bodies even in the face of a society that may not. Being body positive can look like fighting against diet culture or celebrating aspects of your body that beauty standards imply should be kept hidden (for example, posting pictures of your stretch marks). 

The movement has its roots in the 1960s, where body activists, motivated by the civil rights movement, propelled the body positive movement. But the political charge behind body inclusivity has since become diluted. Corporations have co-opted the body positivity movement through largely performative campaigns, usually choosing white able-bodied women with a certain set of curves for their plus-sized models. There is now a standard within the plus-size world (think Ashley Graham) upheld by companies looking to “better their image.” Within these campaigns, companies employ marketing tools to make body size “palatable” to the beauty standard. Don’t get it twisted — they are merely bending the boundaries of the beauty standard an inch, and it snaps right back into place when the campaign ends and, ultimately, no substantive change is made. Weight Watchers, now known as “WW,” has recently rebranded themselves as promoters of wellness to escape the growing criticism of diet culture, but dieting still forms the core of their service — they have simply co-opted weight inclusive language to advertise it. 

Body positivity is important. Self-love is necessary. But it can feel suffocating to feel like you have to be happy about your body all the time. At the end of the day, the body positivity movement still places value on physical appearance. While it works to expand society’s rigid definition of beauty, it does not break the entrenched norm of connecting the way we look with how we value ourselves. 

Enter body neutrality. Body neutrality seeks to take the emphasis away from physical appearance in why we value our bodies and shift it toward appreciating what our bodies do for us. Body-neutral statements sound like this: “My body lets me hug my loved ones, and takes me from point A to point B. Recognizing the functionality and capability of my body can help me find value in what it does for me.” You don’t have to love or hate your body. The goal is acceptance. When I am struggling with my body image, I think to myself, “my body is the least important thing about me.” 

Here are some ways to implement body neutrality into your life: 

1) Drop bodytalk from conversations. Implement body-neutral phrases instead. At the end of the day, thank your body for all it does for you, such as holding your organs and letting you hug and be hugged. 

2) Listen to your body and respond to what it is telling you. If you’re craving pizza, have it. If you think working out will improve your mood, do it.  

3) Do not feel guilty if you have negative thoughts about your body. Try to realize where they are coming from, and acknowledge the things you value about yourself that are not connected to your image. 

4) Focus on feeling good. This might mean wearing comfortable clothes, dancing to music, or taking a nap when you are worn out. 

Body neutrality seeks to remove physical appearance from the equation when it comes to self-worth. Having a body neutral mindset will change how we treat our bodies. The sad truth is that many people only exercise for the purpose of weight loss. In a body-neutral mindset, one would exercise to gain strength and function. “You need to exercise to be healthy, but then again if you over exercise or you do it for the wrong reasons, you’re always going to end up unsatisfied,” said Lucy Del Deo ’21. 

Body neutrality may not resonate with everyone. It can feel utopian and unattainable in a world hyper-focused on image, especially to those who are disabled or chronically ill. While we may view our own bodies as neutral, our existence is not neutral in the world we live in. Body neutrality can only help so much as long as deadly stigma against obesity in healthcare still exists. Many overweight people find that doctors ignore their legitimate health concerns, instead attributing any problem they have to their weight. If a doctor acts on their implicit association with weight and health, they may miss the real source to the person’s problem, depriving the person of proper treatment. We need to reevaluate our perception of health. Think about why you feel the way you do about any sort of weight change. Does it have to do with this stigma? It often does. Both body positivity and body neutrality should be seen as mindsets to acquire while dismantling the white supremacy, sexism, commercialism (and other systemic forces) that uphold diet culture. Individual mindsets cannot fight against the discrimination that bigger and disabled people face in the workplace, health-care, and education. “Just change your mindset” is not an appropriate response to someone experiencing body-based oppression. 

But, body neutrality can be a start to ease your mind and a way to distance yourself from standards based in sexism, racism, and ableism. As Saad Ghaffouli, a senior at Stuyvesant High School, said, “I want to be appreciated for who I am. In the end, I am not my body, I merely inhabit my body.”  

As Saad Ghaffouli, a senior at Stuyvesant High School, said, “I want to be appreciated for who I am. In the end, I am not my body, I merely inhabit my body.”