Trigger warning: article contains sensitive content with regards to disordered eating and body dysmorphia.
Chances are you’ve spent at least a portion of your quarantine scrolling through various social media apps in order to pass the time. Whether it’s scrolling on Instagram, Twitter, or mindlessly watching Youtube, we have all collectively consumed a significant amount more information than we are used to.
Quarantine is already a difficult time, and if you’re someone watching while the world outside transforms, it’s quite easy to become obsessed and view your body as your last resort for control. Confined to my parents’ house, without much else to occupy my mind other than school work, I was exposed to video after video of slim women discussing their eating habits, fitness enthusiasts listing rep after rep of jump squats and burpees, even “joke” videos on eating one grape as a meal. I, like many other 20-year-olds, have fallen into TikTok as one main form of entertainment, inspiration, and to pass time. Yet, as it is a younger platform than many of its counterparts, the app is full of unmonitored content.
TikTok and body dysmorphia
There is some more explicit “pro-ana” (pro-anorexia) content that circulates this app. Yet, a large majority of the diet culture is perpetuated by innocent “what I eat in a day” and suggested exercises for abs or a slimmer waist. These videos hide under the guise of being “body positive” or “healthy” yet promote the same body obsession that most body negative content perpetuates as well.
In a WIRED article discussing the pro-anorexia content on TikTok, Dr. Ysabel Gerrard states that “potentially thousands of users are sharing videos — often captioned with the words “what I eat in a day” and overlaid with pop music — which count calories of every meal, offers recipes for water-based weight-loss drinks, and provide tips on how to rapidly lose weight.” These images and videos continue to perpetuate an obsession with the body, even if it is under the guise of positivity and weight loss.
Influencer Chloe Ting’s monthly workout challenges that guarantee weight loss have been a recent obsession for young women and teens. The videos themselves are quite helpful by providing access to free fitness plans and have helped people stay active during quarantine, yet the motivation behind them can have lasting effects. One program promises abs in just two weeks, which is not physically possible for most individuals. I will admit, I fell down the rabbit hole of workout videos and fitness plans with the hopes of constructing my ideal body.
Breaking down body positivity
Since body positivity has perpetuated this idea of loving your body constantly, it results in a continued preoccupation with your physical appearance. When the movement began in the 60s from the fat acceptance movement, body positivity provided a voice to marginalized bodies, particularly fat, Black, queer, and disabled bodies. Yet in a Huffpost article on the subject, research shows that the constant conversation makes individuals more anxious, and that positive affirmations have been found to backfire if one does not believe it. Believing in yourself is easier said than done, and can become a slippery, obsessive slope.
What is body neutrality?
Body neutrality provides a middle ground for a healthier relationship with one’s body and overall health. It does not focus on your appearance, but rather on how your body functions. How it keeps you alive, allows you to hug those you love, gets you from point A to point B, and so forth.
The term gained popularity after Anne Poirier, of Colby-Sawyer College, started leading programs on the subject at a wellness retreat in Vermont in 2016. The goal of the term was to help participants understand that loving their bodies isn’t always possible. It simply encourages individuals to see their bodies from a neutral standpoint so as to end the constant obsession. Psychologists have found a huge portion of our mind is taken up by the extremes of negative self-talk. Body neutrality opens up space in your mind for other pursuits and to truly be present, sans judgment.
Benefits of body beutrality
Studies have found that body neutrality encourages mindfulness, which can help reduce anxiety, and emotional reactivity. The movement provides a space for people to exist without their physical appearance being questioned constantly.
Individuals with past eating disorders, chronic health problems, body dysmorphia, and disabilities have a difficult time loving every inch of their body. Most humans do! Culture has not moved past the obsession with how we look. This is not to say feeling good about yourself is terrible, but now we have replaced negative feelings with a requirement for positive feelings about our bodies that are not always there.
How to practice body neutrality?
We are bombarded with images of “perfect” bodies through Instagram and TikTok and easily end up dissatisfied with our physical appearances. By acknowledging these moments of negative self-image, we can practice shifting our perspectives to a neutral mindset. Some individuals find that focusing on the strength and power of your body can aid in shifting away from focusing on the superficial.
Our bodies are constantly changing, yet the ideal body time remains unattainable. By embracing a neutral standpoint and letting go of judgment, we can health not only our view of our bodies but our general mental health as well. Why not give it a go?