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Understanding Body Neutrality (and How to Practice It)

by Melinda Jennings on Tuesday 24 November 2020

 

You’ve probably heard of ‘body positivity’. You may have even actively practiced it yourself (as have we!). 

It’s not a new movement; people have felt pressure to look a certain way for hundreds of years. In fact, way back in 1850, a small group of women formed the first recorded body positive movement. Bucking against the oppressive standards of the time (which often saw women using corsets to create dangerously small waists), the Victorian Dress Reform Movement fought to accept bodies of all shapes and sizes. 

Thanks to social media and our modern society’s hyper-connectivity, it’s easier than ever to feel pressure to look a certain way. So, the body positivity mantra of ‘loving your body no matter how you look’ is something to aspire to, right?

The potential dangers of body positivity 

At its core body positivity is promoting a positive message (it’s in the title, after all!), and that’s a great thing. Unfortunately, looking in the mirror and telling yourself you love what you see isn’t actually always helpful.

In fact, a study from the Journal of Psychological Science found that it can have the opposite effect as intended. When someone tells themself something they don’t truly believe, for example “I love everything about my body!”, your brain often doesn’t accept it. As you subconsciously reject the affirmation you’ve just told yourself, you can end up feeling stressed and even resentful at yourself. 

Body neutrality vs body positivity 

Rather than focussing on how you look (even in a positive way), body neutrality focuses on what your body can do.

It’s about viewing your body as a vehicle (an incredibly resourceful one, at that!). From getting active, to hugging a loved one, to carrying you 10,000 steps every day, there’s so much you can potentially do with your body. Body neutrality is the mentality of celebrating that. 

How to practice body neutrality 

The idea of suddenly not thinking about how you look might sound impossible. While it does take practice, it can be achieved, and can have some pretty positive effects.

1. Be in the moment 

The key to forming a body neutral mentality is being in tune with what your body needs in the moment. If your body is an important vehicle for helping you experience life, then it makes sense to treat it well, right? 

That might mean saying to yourself, “I’ve had a big day chasing the kids around and cleaning up after them, what my body needs now is rest.” Or, on the opposite side of things, “I’ve been stressed and cooped up at my desk all day, my body could really benefit from getting outside and moving.”

2. Focus on how you feel, not look 

Notice how the above examples don’t focus on how you look. It’s not about pushing yourself to go out because you worry you’ll feel guilty or lazy if you don’t. It’s simply about being in tune with your body and thinking about what will make it (and you) feel good.

3. Find what works specifically for you 

When it comes to health, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Finding what works for your body – and will make you feel good – is essential for practicing body neutrality.

Exercising should be fun, and if it’s not, you can do something about it. Try switching up how you move until you find what you enjoy. Maybe group sports are more your thing, or perhaps racking up 10,000 steps a day while listening to your favourite podcast is more your jam. 

At Virgin Active, we love to be the place where health and happiness hang out. Offering a variety of memberships and wellness experiences, we’re passionate about helping everybody find what works for their body.

We’d love for you to join us on your fitness journey. Talk to us today to see how we can help you find a way to love the way your body feels.

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