Weight and body image are the two things most people will struggle with at some point in their lives. We are living in a time where we are trying to fight against the damage that has been done to our relationship with our bodies. There has been the body positivity movement, petitions against diet adverts on Instagram, celebrities and public figures advocating against airbrushing, and more recently, the body neutrality movement.
I can’t speak for everyone on this but the journey with my own body image has been a complicated one. There have been times when I’ve hated my body and criticised it endlessly. I have tried being more body positive but it has never worked for me. I found it very difficult to sit there and list all the things I love about my body on a day when I was simply hating it. On such days, it was more damaging to lie to myself about how I felt.
I know that positive thinking about your body has helped many others, but I was uncomfortable about deceiving myself. It’s difficult to figure out the best way to embrace yourself, and sometimes it feels that we are just skipping form one celebrity trend to another. However, after reading that the body neutrality movement is more about developing an acceptance of yourself and your achievements rather than focusing on your body, I decided to give it a go.
My first experience of the movement was through Jameela Jamil, who founded I Weigh on Instagram. Jameela explains that the I weigh movement stemmed from a picture she saw of the Kardashians with each of their body weights clearly stated. It was a movement built out of frustration that the Kardashians, whether you like them or not, are incredible business women who have built an empire for themselves and yet all we can focus on is their weight. We constantly read about the diets and weight fluctuations of celebrity women in magazines, tabloids and on social media. Rarely do we see an article about a woman who has achieved something without mention of her appearance.
Enter the I Weigh movement. Its aim is to stand up against this mass fixation on women’s bodies and weight as opposed to the diverse achievements they accomplish daily. Women from all across the world are sending pictures of themselves into I weigh with a list of things they are proud of in their lives — none of which include their weight.
It isn’t just Jameela Jamil though that has been advocating for change. Sarah Nicole Landry is another public figure on Instagram who want to encourage women to have love for their bodies. The post that especially resonated with me was one consisting of three pictures. There first with her in lingerie, the second in tights and a bra, and the third where she is fully clothed. All bore the caption: ‘Not an invitation’. The post was explaining something that shouldn’t need explaining; namely, that no matter which way a woman is dressed, it is not an invitation to sexualise her. The post had mostly positive comments but there was still an overwhelming amount of men saying, ‘if you dress like this, you get what you get’. Let that sink in.
This is still the attitude of plenty of men (though definitely not all and definitely not a majority) towards women, and that is terrifying. It’s one of the reasons so many women are obsessively focused on their body image, so that they can meet the standards of some men. It’s also the reason our relationship with our bodies is so complicated, because it’s not just ours. And, it’s the reason we should be taking that relationship back. We should be focusing on the things our body can do for us, instead of trying to change it or criticise it for the things we think it should be doing, but isn’t, to please others.
For all these reasons I was inspired to try out the movement for myself. It definitely isn’t an easy thing to do and it isn’t an overnight, one step process to self-love. It takes time to heal a relationship that has been sour for years. It may not even necessarily be the right choice for everyone. This isn’t the perfect, one-size-fits-all solution as I and my friends have discovered after the first few weeks of trying it out and experiencing certain drawbacks. I found this method very confusing at times and there are still things I’m figuring out.
My main concern was that I was doing it incorrectly. Since the movement is all about being body neutral, if I was having a good day and thought positively about my appearance, I questioned whether that was what I should be feeling. Was I focusing on the wrong thing? Does being ‘neutral’ about your appearance mean that you also shouldn’t be positive about it when it might occasionally happen naturally? Should I still put effort into the way I look? Do I choose an outfit I feel good in? Can I wear make up or is this classed as ‘covering up flaws I think I have’?
Basically, there was A LOT to question. The conclusion I have come to though, is that it isn’t about doing it the ‘right’ way. There is no right way, it’s completely fluid. It’s about you and how you feel. It’s about doing it in a way that works for you. The movement for me is about refocusing our relationship with our body back to ourselves. It’s about accepting our body and that means admitting that each one is slightly different.
Another aspect I struggled with, that I also found with the body positivity method, is that it can be hard to do this when you’re in a mentally challenging place. Sometimes you just can’t be accepting of your body or think neutrally of what you’ve accomplished. What I am learning from this, is that it is okay to have a bad day, a neutral day, a positive day. It’s all about staying fluid and going with the day-to-day changes. We don’t need to feel enlightened and empowered every single day of our live. We just need to accept the mood and circumstantial fluctuations and live through these feelings, knowing that we allowed ourselves the time and space not to be okay.
I’ve definitely found the body neutral experiment a positive experience and so far, any negative moments I have had I’ve been able to reflect on in a positive way. I think experimenting with the body neutral movement has allowed me to focus on my accomplishments and see myself as more than the sum of mere physicalities. It has enabled me to treat my body more kindly, to fuel it with nutrition and exercise as a way of strengthening it and helping it to feel good, rather than trying to manipulate and control it. It’s helped me look forward to events more, and when I’m getting ready I feel a great deal calmer and more focused. I’m also enjoying spending time with people rather than worrying about how I look in comparison to others. It has been a very busy period, as December usually is, and the body neutrality method has made me more aware of what my body does for me every day. I appreciate how clever it is at telling me what it needs and now I listen.
After testing what body neutrality can do, I’ve found that I’m learning to be kinder and more appreciative of myself and my body. It is still an ongoing journey to feeling absolutely comfortable, but something I struggle with less and less. I found that focusing on yourself and your achievements rather than your body is a very liberating skill to have.
Now there is a newfound appreciation for myself and all the incredible things I have achieved. Such as my degree and my travels to Asia, the Middle East, Europe and America. It made me wonder, if I had spent less time worrying about my weight, would I have been able to achieve and enjoy more? I believe so. But, I still managed to accomplish all these things while struggling with my body image, and that is an achievement in itself that I and other women as well as men everywhere also accomplish. Be proud of that.