My Body, Neutrally

by thethreepennyguignol

So, a few years ago, I wrote an article about body positivity. It’s an article I’ve had a lot of great feedback for, and one I’m still very proud of; at the time I wrote it, it felt like a weight off my shoulders to feel able to be honest about my body without apology. It reflects where I was with my body at the time, but, as I’ve discussed in articles since, my relationship with my body is constantly changing, and these days, I find myself more drawn to another approach to body image: body neutrality.

Now, I want to make it very clear that body positivity has been really helpful for me in the past, and I know many, many people for whom it has been a major aid in repairing (or even building in the first place) their relationship with their body. When it comes down to it, I don’t think there is any harm in doing what you can to view your body through a positive lens, whether that’s they way it looks or the way it works.

In the last year or so, my body hasn’t always worked or looked the way I want it to. I’m very lucky to have a body that is basically able to carry me through my day-to-day life, but, after a bout of Covid and tonsilitis last year, I was out for the proverbial count for a few months. I’ve been very lucky not have struggled with any major ongoing physical health issues over the course of my life, and I ended up in hospital for a short time during this illness – the recovery was long and gruelling and sometimes felt hopeless. For the first time in my life, I had to contend with my body failing me, and it really made me reflect on how body positivity functioned for me.

Because I tried to look at my body, through illness and though physical change I didn’t enjoy, through a positive lens, I really did. But, eventually, I found it frustrating – I knew my body wasn’t working right. I knew the way I looked didn’t fit into a conventional idea of beauty. I knew that trying to force myself into some sunshiney view of it was doing a disservice to the way I felt. Trying to plaster positivity over those feelings just wasn’t working. I vividly remember crying through my cough in the middle of the night last year, wondering if I would ever feel alright again and wondering if I would ever be able to trust or like my body after what it had done to me. It was very much reflective of how I felt when I first discovered I had vaginismus, but this time, not just localized to my vagina – that frustration, the feeling of betrayal at my own system and how it refused to function the way I thought it should.

So, I moved the goalposts. Positivity felt out of my reach, an attempt to bleach my mind into believing in my beauty way too distant – neutrality, though? Neutrality, I could handle. I couldn’t promise myself my body would get back to the place it had been when I felt good about it, so I would detach emotion from it as far as was humanly possible. Yes, my body was sick and weak and didn’t feel like it used to. Now what? Trying to plaster a positive outlook over my diminished health didn’t work, but removing the need for the interminable Bright Side of Things allowed me to see it a bit more clearly – allowed me to focus on the things that did work and how distinctly grateful I am for their continued existence.

As for the way it looked, it was actually a relief to not have to try and convince myself of my body’s beauty no matter how it looked. I couldn’t bully myself into seeing the beauty in that body, not in the way it looked, at least. I didn’t need to expand the definition of beauty to fit my new body into it; I needed to accept that the beauty of my body didn’t even really matter that much at all in the first place. My stretch marks and scars and leg hair aren’t beautiful, but that doesn’t make them bad. A lack of beauty is not an absence of worth, strength, ability, or anything else, and removing that push to see my body through this soft-focus lens of beauty has allowed me to appreciate parts of it I was less fond of before – the softness of my stomach, running my fingers through my thigh hair, the little bonk in the middle of my nose where I broke it on the stairs as a kid.

For now, at least, body neutrality has been the most helpful way to see the vessel that I happen to wander about this mortal coil in. My body doesn’t have more worth or less for being especially functional or beautiful or anything of the sort – and when positivity feels impossible, accepting that it just is feels better than trying to fake it.

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