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Suzanne Manser, PhD

Licensed Psychologist

Body Neutrality: How to Stop Hating Your Body

Improve your body image with a radically different approach

Do you love your body? Me either.

But here’s the thing: I also don’t hate it. I don’t need it to change to feel acceptable, happy, or fulfilled. I am okay with my belly hanging over my waistband right now as I type this. I don’t like it, but I am okay with it. It is not going to ruin my day.

I used to feel quite a bit worse about my body. Interestingly, that was when my body was quite a bit thinner. To me, it still didn’t look like it “should.” It wasn’t ever good enough, and that felt like a problem.

Then I started practicing body neutrality, and my game was changed.

Body neutrality gives us a body image option, a completely different way of relating to our body. We don’t have to like, love, or hate how we look. In the body neutral approach, how our body looks is not a focus because it is not meaningful. How my belly looks hanging over my waistband is irrelevant to anything important. My belly doesn’t have to be shamed and it doesn’t have to be loved.

It’s okay if I don’t think my belly is beautiful. Bodies don’t exist to be pretty. Bodies exist to allow us to be alive and have experiences. Our bodies allow us to swim, sing, hug our dog, see daffodils, read fascinating posts about body neutrality – this is what is meaningful about our bodies.

Our bodies allow us to live fulfilling lives. Or even simply: our bodies allow us to live. This is what is meaningful about our bodies.

Body neutrality reminds us that we don’t need to attach meaning to how our body looks. We don’t need to attach strong feelings to how our body looks. We don’t need to attach ourselves to how our body looks. How our body looks just isn’t the point.

Sounds good, right?

So how do we do it? How do we not feel attached to how our body looks (especially when we already are)?

It’s all about where we put our focus.

In short, don’t spend time and energy focusing on what your body looks like. Don’t focus on the size of your body parts as if it’s meaningful. If you notice a knee-jerk judgment about your body, don’t focus on it because it doesn’t matter.

The act of focusing on something sends a message to our brain that that thing is important. The brain then tells us that that thing is important, and so we focus on it more. When it comes to our body’s appearance, that is the opposite of what we are trying to do.

This doesn’t mean we won’t have opinions about how we look – we’ll have opinions about how we like our hair or how we look in our new shirt. We’ll have opinions about our thighs. But we don’t focus on those opinions because – big picture – how we look is not one of our core values. It is not a thing that we would want to be remembered for. If one of the best things people say about me after I die is that I was thin, I missed out on a whole lot. So I may notice the roundness of my belly and have an opinion or feeling about it, but I move on. I don’t dwell and let it make or break my day because it’s just not that important.

If we don’t put our focus on how our body looks, what do we focus on?

Focus on anything helpful (i.e., almost anything but your appearance). Focus on your favorite song, focus on your plans for later, focus on what you are grateful for, focus on how you want to feel today, focus on what you can do to align with your values. If it’s meaningful that your body allows you to do very cool things, focus on that.

The more you focus on what is helpful, the less you will focus on what makes you feel bad. The more you focus on what is meaningful, the more fulfilling your life will feel. Notably, none of this requires your body to look any particular way.

To be real: Do other people judge us based on our body? Absolutely. But if we give them anything else to judge us on, they’ll move on to that. State your opinion about something, and they’ll judge it. People will judge whatever we show of ourselves – that’s what people do. Don’t let that mean anything. Their judgment always says more about them than us anyway.

Body neutrality is a body image option that takes us beyond loving or hating our bodies. And it’s doable, though it takes practice. Try letting go of any focus on how your body looks. Remind yourself that that is the least interesting and least meaningful thing about you. And then move on.

 

To learn more, check out my other articles:

Body Neutrality

A Path to Body Neutrality

How to Practice Body Neutrality

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