Behind Closed Doors: Body Neutrality

In my Behind Closed Doors columns, I like to talk about giving ourselves a little personal loving as much as I like to talk about sharing love. I’ve talked a bit about masturbation and feminist porn in the past, but in a belated follow-up on Mental Health Awareness week here on campus, I’m talking about a different kind of self-love today: body image.

I’m about to say something radical. Are you ready for it? I don’t weigh myself. Unless I am in a doctor’s office, I don’t do it. It’s part of a list of rules I have made to protect myself from body negativity. But I have other, less healthy, laws about my body that govern how I live too. For example, if I’m overweight I rarely pursue intimacy because I don’t feel attractive. It’s driving me insane. It’s holding me back.

Nowadays, people talk a lot about body love. In recent years, it has become the culturally accepted firewall that is supposed to keep out body hate. But when our lives change, our bodies change too. Some weeks you won’t get much sleep, you’ll be stressed out about this midterm or that essay, and it will affect your health. Other weeks you’ll sleep well, hit the gym, and choose carrot sticks at Cosi over potato chips. So when both our bodies and emotions are inevitably subjected to the changes in our lives, is it really fair to hold ourselves to the standard of total body love? That’s exactly what Marisa Meltzer asks in her recent article for NYMag’s offshoot webzine, The Cut: “Forget Body Positivity: How About Body Neutrality?”

What does body neutrality mean, exactly? Well, as Autumn Whitefield-Madrano explains in her interview with Meltzer, “the times I’m happiest are when I’m not thinking about my body at all.” And this quote really resonated with me. I’ve personally volleyed between body positivity and body negativity with terrible clarity, the successes in the first making my failures in the second all the more painful. But the times when I don’t even think about my body — when I just accept myself in whatever shape I’m in at the moment and focus on living my life — are the moments when I’m truly at peace with myself.

Meltzer goes on to explain, “Part of the implicit goal of body neutrality is to free up all the energy and attention that women often devote to body angst so that they can care about other matters instead.”

In short: LIVE! Live your life and live it fully regardless of what you see in the mirror. This mindset won’t happen overnight. It begins with realizing that the choice to take care of yourself is not exclusive to being in peak physical condition all the time.

But I have to practice what I preach, right? This week I’ll make some new pledges to myself: to attend Body Pump at the Rec because lifting weights makes me feel like Wonder Woman; to not freak out if I decide to hit up Extraordinary Cupcakes midweek; to dive headfirst into my work and study at Swem for too many hours; to not regret staying up until 2 a.m. to read a book that I haven’t been assigned by the English department. But mostly, I want to pledge to forgive myself if I haven’t accomplished any of these things by next Friday. And I want to challenge you to do the same.

Elizabeth Barto is a Behind Closed Doors columnist who would rather count the number of puppies she pet this week than the number of calories she consumed.


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