Body Neutrality: What It Is and How You Can Start to Practice It
Learn more about the movement that seeks to not place positive or negative values on your body.
Macy MeyerEditor I
Macy Meyer is a N.C. native who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2021 with a B.A. in English and Journalism. She currently resides in Charlotte, N.C., where she has been working as an Editor I, covering a variety of topics across CNET's Home and Wellness teams, including home security, fitness and nutrition, smart home tech and more. Prior to her time at CNET, Macy was featured in The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer, INDY Week, and other state and national publications. In each article, Macy helps readers get the most out of their home and wellness. When Macy isn't writing, she's volunteering, exploring the town or watching sports.
ExpertiseMacy covers a variety of topics across CNET's Home and Wellness teams, including home security, smart home tech, fitness, nutrition, travel, lifestyle and more.Credentials
Macy has been working for CNET for coming on 2 years. Prior to CNET, Macy received a North Carolina College Media Association award in sports writing.
I, like the vast majority of people, have experienced intense body dissatisfaction. Simply scrolling through social media felt like a violent bombardment of "goal" bodies that I'd never attain, fast-fix detoxes and advertisements for pills and hacks on how to achieve the "ideal" body. Earlier this year, my journey with body image got so contentious that even the idea of getting on Instagram or TikTok made me viscerally sick. I worked out too much, I ate too little and I kept a neat little diary of everything I ate in a day.
I knew this behavior wasn't productive and that my supposed "healthy" regiment wasn't actually healthy at all. I took steps toward healing: mindful eating, exercising when I could but resting when my body needed it and taking a much-needed social media cleanse. I focused less on what my body looked like in the mirror and I appreciated how my body showed up for me each and every day, allowing me to do all the hiking, boxing and running that I love so much.
What I learned throughout my journey is that this practice actually has a name: body neutrality. To learn more, I spoke to an expert, Kristen Bunich (MA, RD, LDN), a registered nutritionist and owner of The Intuitive Dietitian based in Charlotte, North Carolina, to discuss the body neutrality movement and how to practice it.
What is body neutrality?
Bunich says that body neutrality is the practice of not assigning negative or positive values to one's body. Instead, body neutrality focuses on accepting the body as-is and concentrating on what the body is capable of rather than how it looks.
Rather than looking in a mirror and judging the cellulite on your legs or thickness of your thighs, body neutrality would include appreciating that your legs are strong enough to run, jump, skip, hike, etc. and capable of helping you engage in activities that you love each day.
Body neutrality first gained traction around 2015, but became more mainstream when Anne Poirier -- a certified intuitive eating counselor, and founder of The Body Joyful Revolution -- began using the term to help people heal from diet culture and find a healthy perspective of exercise.
How does one practice body neutrality?
Body neutrality is just that -- a practice, which means it takes time and energy to establish. It's important to note we all have our days where we feel more insecure. That's OK and normal, so don't be too hard on yourself.
Bunich shared several tips and things we can do to live with more body neutrality:
Learn to eat intuitively (honoring your hunger by eating when you feel like eating, not eating when you feel full).
Stop talking about and participating in diets.
Don't allow jokes or teasing about your (or someone else's) weight. This might mean setting boundaries with friends or family who do this.
Guard what you see, especially online. Limit social media feeds that are full of "before" and "after" photos, fat burning pills and hacks, or altered body images.
Focus on qualities about yourself that are independent of your appearance.
Give yourself grace while navigating body neutrality, and know you won't feel neutral about your body overnight.
What's the difference between body positivity and body neutrality?
When it comes to body acceptance, there seems to be two main camps: body neutrality and body positivity. While body neutrality takes a more middle-of-the-road approach to appreciating the body and what it can do, body positivity seeks to celebrate all body types regardless of shape or size, and advocates to normalize body hair, different skin textures, stretch marks, menstruation and other normal human body characteristics that have been historically vilified.
Body positivity movements have occurred in waves since as early as the late 1800s as first wave feminism began, but the modern movement took root in the early 2010s as Instagram, other social media sites and advertisements sparked debates about cultural beauty standards and what physical features were deemed conventionally attractive. Body positivity was a response to these pressures, hoping to help women embrace their bodies despite perceived flaws.
On the other hand, Bunich said, "Body neutrality places no value on the body, but there is an appreciation for what you are able to do and the practice of noticing the feelings with these situations."
"Body positivity is still a movement that emphasizes physical appearance as a part of your self worth where neutrality sees the body, notices what it is doing, and feels what impact that has. While there may be aspects of your body you don't care for at times, you can still appreciate what your body can do."
Bunich also said that for her and many other women, body positivity can have drawbacks. She described that forcing a mantra that doesn't feel authetic can lead to feelings of shame and guilt -- which is exactly what these movements are trying to prevent.
"I love the idea of body positivity, but I think the practice of it felt inauthentic for me and I know I am not alone in this," Bunich said.
What are the benefits of practicing body neutrality?
Bunich said there are many benefits to practicing body neutrality, mainly because it's a holistic approach that encompasses taking care of your body with sleep, movement and intuitive eating rather than just exercising.
"Exercise is something that can sound intimidating for many people," Bunich said. "The longer and more wide-reaching benefit to movement is the way it can make you feel. Connect with how movement makes you feel afterwards. Did stress decrease? Do you feel strong? Do you feel pride in moving? How does this movement make you feel versus make you look?"
Body neutrality can turn exercise that often feels like punishment into something enjoyable. Practicing body neutrality can help you reframe exercise as something that makes you feel good and energized rather than something you must do to work off the food you eat.
Along with overall improving body image and self-confidence, body neutrality is credited with numerous mental and emotional health benefits. For one, and maybe most importantly, you'll be less self-critical and judgmental. It will help you look beyond just the physical and help you realize that your self-worth and value do not come from body shape or size.
Body neutrality is also known to reduce anxiety, lower stress and improve one's mood since it removes certain pressures to look, eat or move in a certain way. The goal is no longer conforming to certain beauty standards, but to feel good with movement. Physical activity is known to help produce more endorphins, a "happy" hormone linked to reducing pain and maximizing pleasure.
The bottom line
While the health and wellness industry is full of tips, tricks and other hacks about improving the look of your body, body neutrality is a realistic and attainable practice to help focus on the amazing ability of your body instead.
Even if you aren't into movements or subscribing to any one practice, it's important to remember that your body is just one part of who you are and it shouldn't determine how you feel about yourself. Rather, we can all be better about promoting the other values and characteristics that make us who we are.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.