Love the Skin You’re In
The holidays are often a time replete with social gatherings and parties where people tend to congregate around the kitchen and indulge in favorite holiday treats. Pumpkin pie, eggnog, peppermint bark –things we wait all year to enjoy! So naturally, this time of year is also often overrun by news segments, articles, and blog posts about how to make the holidays healthy or how to shed those holiday pounds. I am certainly in favor of health, and that includes mental health! So, to counter the incessant nagging about how to achieve what the media has deemed “the perfect body,” I’d like to focus on body positivity and body neutrality.
Body positivity is the idea that all bodies – regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender presentation, and physical ability – are worthy of acceptance, and that all people are deserving of a positive body image. Body positivity has its roots in the fat acceptance movement of the 1960s, in which people whose bodies were largely marginalized began a social justice movement to fight against anti-fat bias and fat phobia. Thanks to social media and influencer culture, the body positivity movement reemerged in its current form about a decade ago. It continues to promote self-love and encourages people to challenge the media’s depiction of our cultural beauty standards, which typically portrays people (and women in particular) as thin, toned, tall, youthful, symmetrical, and effortlessly flawless. With the rise of social media and the ubiquitous use of filters and airbrushing, there has been growing documentation about the negative impact this has on mental health. Comparing oneself to an unreal, idealized version of what a person “should” look like has left our youth feeling depressed, self-conscious, and never quite good enough. They spend hours doing makeup, researching the latest diet fads and workout routines, and editing photos in order to appear “perfect” and desirable. Body positivity rejects these beauty standards. Rather, it promotes the mindset of loving our bodies as-is, no matter how they look. It also pushes us to re-examine our relationship with food, clothing, and exercise.
For some people, the term “body positivity” has started to sour. Some feel that the term has been co-opted by various corporations and brands as a way to make money and sell products while still only focusing on a certain subset of bodies that are deemed beautiful (e.g., fat bodies sans hair and cellulite in an hourglass shape). Others have taken issue with the movement because of its focus on appearance, whatever it may be. Therefore, a newer off-shoot of this movement was formed known as body neutrality. Not only does body neutrality promote taking a neutral stance toward one’s body (which may feel more palatable for people who previously harbored very negative views about their bodies), but more importantly, it places the focus on the functions of the body, rather than how it looks. It allows people to appreciate what their body can do for them, regardless of whether or not they have been able to cultivate a feeling of love for how it looks. Body neutrality encourages people to marvel at the human body’s ability to do things both big and small, ordinary and extraordinary, such as smell a flower, peel a banana, walk up a flight of stairs, hug a loved one, run a marathon, and give birth to a baby.
Your body will accompany you for your entire life; it is your permanent travel companion. Whether you adopt a body positive and/or body neutral stance, I urge you to make friends with it.
Ashley Kaplan, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist