Exploring the notion of accepting your body outside the lens of beauty and aesthetics. To find out more, we chat with pilates instructor Cat Webb on how the movement informs her inclusive teaching practice.
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Often, a question like this belies a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ A more common answer: ‘it depends.’
There is something inherently universal about the undulating feelings we have towards our physical selves.
Some days we feel great; we marvel at our body’s ability to run laps, make babies and carry us safely through a global pandemic.
We feel powerful in our favourite pair of jeans and love how a fancy new skin essence imbues our cheekbones with just the right amount of lit-from-within glow.
Some days, however, this sense of self-celebration wanes; replaced by self-loathing, comparison, a yearning for something different, or a stern resolution to edit or reduce.
Body Neutrality is an emerging frontier of self-acceptance that honours this fluctuation and extends to remove our physical appearance from our feelings of self-worth.
Differing from Body Positivity which focuses on loving your body no matter what, Body Neutrality is a philosophy that focuses on what your body can do for you.
Where Body Positivity emphasises the idea that everyone is beautiful, Body Neutrality simply proclaims that everyone is.
At its core, the concept of Body Neutrality challenges the idea that your self-worth depends entirely on adoring every single part of your body and appearance to feel good about yourself.
It posits that by replacing idealistic messages and binary language – “I feel good / I feel bad” – with an approach more embedded in what’s tangible and realistic – a multitude of conflicting and adjacent thoughts – we start to acknowledge what our body does in addition to how it appears.
This has the potential to shift our relationship with our body and re-establish our cognitive disposition away from thoughts like: “I am hot. I am beautiful. I am amazing” towards a more mindful approach – “I love my body for getting me through this day, for holding me tight” or “I will devote time to doing things that nurture my body and make it feel good; eating, sleeping, dancing, self-pleasure.”
There is a tenderness to this approach that feels very attune to the human condition, and globally, Body Neutrality has begun to resonate.
Thought leaders in the space – singer Lizzo and Jameela Jamil to name a few – have cited their support of this new frontier of self-actualisation, agreeing that the way we feel about our bodies isn’t as simple as negative and positive – a notion that the Body Positivity movement fails to acknowledge.
As nuanced creatures of complex biological mechanics, regulating our self-perception as nothing more or less than a swinging pendulum between good or bad is, frankly, impossible.
Our sense of self – like everything about us that makes us inherently human – is topographical; it fluctuates.
Personally, body positivity was a coping mechanism, a bandaid for my self-loathing, but also a gateway into a way of life that felt more authentic and allowed me to journey towards being at peace with my body.
I respect where the movement has come from and its intentions but, where elements have evolved to include toxic positivity I’m wary of the potential to ostracise anyone who will likely benefit from the movement.
To me, being positive about my physicality took work, loving yourself all the time can be hard and it felt like there was little room for nuance and acceptance. I put pressure on myself to feel like I was something special all the time, it felt superficial.
The journey is ongoing, but I eventually found peace in a more neutral approach to the way I thought about my body.
Instead of parroting empty mantas about loving myself and tying my professional worth to how defined my abdominals were, I started practicing gratitude for all the cool shit I had done, physically and otherwise, like all the humans I’m able to lift up every day and the joy, empowerment, and fearlessness I hope to encourage in them.
Body neutrality helped to inform the way I approached my work and helped to make me a more empathetic teacher and leader.
Much of what I do to facilitate an inclusive and welcoming environment is in what we don’t do or don’t say. Having gone through this ‘self-acceptance journey’ myself I wanted more from the fitness/wellbeing industry than the standard patriarchal lead weight loss crap.
So, I made a huge effort to move as far away from that kind of language as possible. Similar to my own journey, I decided to focus on the cool things bodies could do – instead of what they looked like.
All of them! I grew up in the ’90s when self-worth was intrinsically linked to physical size. I do believe that the only way out is through, so without the beauty of hindsight maybe I wouldn't appreciate how far we’ve come and fought so hard to maintain and share the message of body neutrality.
I cannot even see a way in which my experience with the body positivity and body neutrality movement has not informed every aspect of who I am, what I do, how I interact with people.
I’ve built a business around my own authentic view of the world, which I’ve developed through the lens of this entire experience.
The fitness/wellness industry has profited off self-hatred for so long, I’m not 100% confident it can change, there’s too much profit at stake but, I am hopeful.
As ‘wokeness’ becomes more on-trend, more of the industry will try to jump on the bandwagon with disingenuous campaigns around ‘Self Love’ while they still run fitness challenges with before and after images, spruik slimming shakes, and showcase messaging about toning and summer bodies.
That doesn’t really sound hopeful! Look, capitalism aside, I believe everyone is doing the best they can with what they’ve got and also when you know better, do better. So as the world, in general, becomes a more liberal thinking, growth-focused, progressive place to be in, I can only hope that the fitness/wellness industry learns to think more critically and allow itself the space to grow and do better.
At youtime, we agree that self-love extends beyond appearance, yet also wish to acknowledge how Body Positivity has instigated commendable steps towards acceptance, diversity, and inclusion.
The presence of WOC plus-sized models like Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser on the runway and billboards of major fashion houses has shifted from groundbreaking to socially celebrated and mainstream.
Brand campaigns are more diverse than ever before, featuring BIPOC, Trans, and diversely-abled individuals. Size inclusivity in retail and beyond is on a steady trajectory to becoming an expectation. Streams of TikTok and Instagram content feature independent and diverse creators celebrating their bodies and encouraging us to meet our own where it’s at.
We see value and purpose in both Body Positivity and Body Neutrality and encourage you to seek a definition of self-love and wellbeing that feels right for you.
“I will eat intuitively; some days my body will ask for leafy greens, some days my body will ask for chocolate and pinot. Whatever makes me feel good, works.”
“I will embrace a mindful approach to movement that makes me feel proud and excited about what my body is capable of. If I’m simply dreading my morning run, I’ll skip it and nurture my body with a sleep-in and a warm shower.”
“I love how good I feel after I’ve spent time to cleanse and nourish my skin at the end of the day. I also forgive myself for missing a few steps on the nights I get home late after a few martinis.”
“I love how my body responds to self-pleasure on days when I’m feeling stressed out, and I also love how connected my body feels when I experience pleasure with another individual.”