Wendy Powell

Body Neutrality: Beyond the Love vs Hate Binary

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Postpartum Meditation

You don’t need to love your body in order to stop hating it.

They say the opposite of hate isn’t love, its indifference. Well, the concept of body neutrality isn’t about ignoring your body, rather it’s a redirection. In freeing yourself of the “Do I love my body. Does my body love me not?” mindset, an acceptance of your body as-is might change your relationship to it. 

The Body Neutrality Movement

The term was popularized by body image coach and author, Ann Poirier in 2015. Her book, “The Body Joyful,” expands on the idea of body ambivalence over positivity. Poirier urges us all to be mindful about what our bodies can do over what they look like.

“Body neutrality is experiential and not something that happens overnight … It’s one awareness at a time, one thought at a time.”

— Anne Poirier

Opposed to the sometimes black and white thinking of body positivity vs body shame, body neutrality casts a wide net of feelings. You can feel ambivalent about your body, accepting of its changes, enjoying its strength or softness regardless of how it looks, etc. In a way, having a mindset of body neutrality is like meditation — you acknowledge the flow of thoughts and feelings which come into your headspace without assigning a value of “good” or “bad” to them. In being neutral-minded about your body, you accept that thinking about your body doesn’t necessitate actively changing it.

Body Neutrality and Postpartum Fitness

For some, this can be a breath of fresh air amongst all the talk of loving your body in spite of this or that. You can simply be in your body. What you do with and for your body can come from what your body is feeling above what it looks like.

This body neutrality mindset has increasingly begun to shape modern fitness programs. From the beautifully attuned and intuitive be.come project and joyn’s “all bodies” driven platform, the options for broad and movement-centered workouts over aesthetic-oriented fitness are rapidly growing. Likewise, MUTU’s pregnancy and postnatal fitness programming is centered around principles of body neutrality. This means that the workout routines connect to what the body can do — its functionality — regardless of appearance.

Postpartum mom meditating on body neutrality.
Being mindful of what your body can do postnatally. Postpartum Mom Meditating by Antoini Shkraba.

In Charge of Your Body’s Story

There are many opportunities to neutralize your thoughts around your body in pregnancy and postpartum. This may come as a blessing in a culture so quick to sort maternal feelings into boxes of shame vs mommy bliss. We wrote about the culture of toxic positivity found in much of parenting culture recently, highlighting how a relentless call to just see the “bright side” might actually cause harm. Similarly, the siren call of body positivity can leave new parents feeling isolated if they can’t quite love their cesarean scar or the shape of their tummy with diastasis recti. That has echoes of the “be glad the baby is healthy” line new moms hear when discussing their postpartum challenges. Both are equally unhelpful.

Alternatively, body neutrality allows for some sense of acceptance or ambivalence about your current body without making you choose between changing it or celebrating it. It invites us to tell the stories of our bodies in a way which highlights what they are, what they can do, how we got here without those stories being ones necessarily of trauma or triumph. Strength, scars, stretch marks then all melt into the landscape of our bodies without then adding to a story of how we are better or worse for them. In return, narrating our journeys to others in this way hopefully invites conversations with less judgment and more acceptance towards ourselves and others. 

A Mindful Revolution

This may seem like a simple concept, but it can feel revolutionary in practice. This is because it can start to allow ourselves to shape our body narratives more from within than from culture or media. Plus, it’s a mode of thinking less inclined to comparison. For that reason, body neutrality has been a growing part of conversations about ableism, gender equality, racial equity, healing from eating disorders, postpartum mental health, and other issues of minority representation and wellbeing. What your body looks like is just a fraction of who you are, afterall. 

Our bodies will continue to change throughout our lifetimes, as will our feelings around these changes. Body neutrality may feel too ambiguous to sit with for long periods of time. It may instead be a necessary stepping stone on the path towards more bodily love. It may be the perfect antidote against self hate by creating an achievable and flexible alternative to love. 

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Body neutrality is about what the body can do. Image by April Laugh.

It’s okay to have shifting feelings around what our bodies do and how they look, having a variety of positive, neutral, and challenging feelings in the mix. The aim of body neutrality is not to become passive or indifferent to our bodies. Rather, it’s to accept that we don’t need to “fix” our bodies into a fixed state of love. There, hopefully, we can live in peace within ourselves.

MUTU Tips on Practicing Body Neutrality in Postpartum:

  • Don’t ruminate. Teach yourself how to pause the circular thinking of body shame by letting the feelings just pass. They don’t have to turn into a positive, you can simply let them fall away.
  • Reframe your workout mindset. Focus on how your body feels during and just after a workout instead of it burning off the “bad” food you might have eaten. This might move you closer to your goals with more enjoyment and ease. 
  • Spend less time in front of a mirror. Some body neutrality advocates suggest limiting mirrors in your home or covering them for a brief period. 
  • Limit your time on social media. If you are finding that comparisons are too easy to make while scrolling, consider unfollowing accounts. You may also try setting firm limits on how much time you spend scrolling. 
  • Change the conversation. Try mindfully switching to talk of what your body is DOING rather than how it looks in postpartum. Or trying to not talk about your body/bodies much at all. You don’t have to aggressively shut down body shaming talk with friends and family, necessarily. Try reframing the narrative when you chime in and see if you can redirect the flow of conversation that way. 

If you don’t already follow MUTU on Instagram, head on over to our profile for more body-neutral tips on postpartum fitness. You can also jump into our postnatal fitness program designed for all bodies, abilities, and goals here

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