How Body Neutrality Can Promote A Healthier Body Image

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Years ago, the body positivity movement began as a way to challenge society’s narrow standard of beauty. It rejected the notion that beauty only comes in a thin, tall, able-bodied package with unblemished, poreless skin. The movement celebrated every body and encouraged everyone to feel beautiful. 

Now, however, body positivity has given way to body neutrality—which might be a healthier perspective.

“Body neutrality takes the focus off your appearance altogether,” says Marjan Moghaddam, D.O., a family medicine physician with Henry Ford Health System. “It says you can appreciate your body and what it does for you without loving it every second of every day, or even thinking about it every day. Being consumed with thoughts about your body all of the time—whether positive or negative—could potentially lead to mental health issues such as disordered eating.”

We have so many other, more important qualities—and thoughts—to prioritize. When you’re practicing body neutrality, you are steering attention away from your body (and away from potentially obsessive thoughts about your appearance). 

How To Change Your Mindset

Letting go of thoughts about your body won't happen overnight. Here are some ways to slowly make the shift. 

  • Consider qualities about yourself and your friends that you love. Kindness, humor, loyalty, thoughtfulness—we’ve always heard this, but it’s true: inward qualities make someone beautiful.
  • Find activities and interests you enjoy. Whether it’s crafting, painting or playing an instrument, working on a project occupies your thoughts so that you’re not agonizing over how you look. (Take kids, for example: they are always busy playing and having fun—and how often do they fret over their appearance?)
  • Volunteer. Donating your time is a great way to help others and take the focus off yourself. “Volunteering can give you a sense of purpose, it can increase your physical and mental health, it can reduce rates of anxiety and depression—and it can boost your confidence in ways that have nothing to do with what you look like,” says Dr. Moghaddam. 
  • Take a step back from social media. (Or edit who you follow.) It’s difficult to not focus on your appearance if you’re constantly shown filtered images of seemingly perfect physiques. Limit yourself to following accounts that make you feel good: pictures of puppies, babies, nature—whatever it is that makes you happy. 
  • Be active in a way that brings you joy. Exercise is good for our health and boosts endorphins. These are the reasons we should work out—not to look a certain way. Take the focus off perfection and find ways to move your body that are fun, whether that's hiking, biking, playing tennis or dancing. (To name just a few examples.) 
  • Wear what you want. We’ve been trained to “dress for our shape," or to choose clothes that "flatter our figures." But how we dress should be based upon whether we like something. Does it suit your personality and your style? Have fun and try not to let "body shapes" dictate your wardrobe. 
  • Eat intuitively. Intuitive eating is the anti-diet—it has nothing to do with your appearance. “Listen to your body,” says Dr. Moghaddam. “Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. If you’re craving something sweet, go for it. If you’re craving fresh greens, eat a big salad. By listening to your body, you’ll realize you can eat everything in moderation. You’ll slowly understand that your hunger cues have been there the whole time.”

It’s not easy to reframe your thinking and undo habits you’ve learned, so take it slowly and cut yourself some slack. “It’s okay to have things about your body that you don’t love, but the key is to accept it—not to agonize over it,” says Dr. Moghaddam.

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To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Marjan Moghaddam, D.O., is a family medicine physician who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in Capitol Park and Harbortown. 

Categories: FeelWell