Sam responds: Why body neutrality isn’t enough (for me)

Tracy and I enjoy our disagreements. We agree about many things and there’s lots of trust and love and a long history of friendship and collegiality. The result is that disagreeing can be fun and informative.

We part ways over tracking, over road cycling, aiming for more versus doing less, and recently over scales in university fitness centre change rooms. And now it’s body positivity. I’m a fan of learning to love your body. She’s a fan of body neutrality. See Still a fan of body neutrality.

Why am I fan of body positivity instead?

First, let me start with an observation. It’s no surprise to me that most of the proponents of body positivity are fat women. Not all. But most. Why’s that?

It’s radical and empowering to say to the world that you love this body that they hate. And you need love, not neutrality to balance out all that hate.

I feel like if neutrality was the best I could aim for, in the face of all that anger, fear, and loathing, I’d wither away. Loving my body is work. It’s a challenge.

It’s also for me a kind of attitude, like love in general. In my post about loving the body you’ve got I wrote.

What does it mean to ‘love’ this body? I don’t think it’s perfect aesthetically speaking. That’s not what I mean at all. I could list its flaws–I spend enough time with other women to know how to do that–but I won’t. I’m nearing fifty years old. If perfection were ever in my sights, that was a long time ago.

I love my kids. I don’t think they are perfect. (Sorry kids.) I’m not talking about aesthetics and I’m not talking about perfection. I don’t associate either of those values with love.

I associate loving my body with the activity of caring for my body. It’s both a sense of awe and wonder (Wow, I rode my bike 160 km!) and a responding to that awe and wonder with concrete action (Great ride, now let’s go for a massage!).

One difference between Tracy and me is that I don’t feel or experience “love your body” as an imperative, as one more thing that good feminists must do. What I learned from her post is that (obviously) different people experience messages in different ways. 

I’ve never heard “love your body” as a command or order. It’s not for me, one more way to fail as a feminist. Instead, I’ve always heard “love your body” as a permission. Yes, you. Yes, that body. Love that body now.

And I do.

And I plan on continuing to do so for many more years to come.

8 thoughts on “Sam responds: Why body neutrality isn’t enough (for me)

  1. Hm I am not sure I see body neutrality and the work of loving your body as at odds with one another. Doesn’t it make sense to say, I love my body in the sense that I care about its well being and appreciate it, and I am committed to caring for it and celebrating its successes, but my evaluation of it is mixed – there are things I like about it and things I hate about it? I think that’s where I am at.

    1. Sure. But, for me, and I expect for lots of other women seen as “fat” there’s this additional value in finding things you like about your body. I find I need to be pretty body positive to get through our culture’s hate of fat bodies. What’s the mean for me? And I expect here it means different things for different people. For me, it’s wearing body conscious clothes and showing off rather than hiding. It’s making an effort to spend time with people who appreciate my body as it is, not as something to be improved or put up with b/c (thanks fat childhood) I’m also smart and funny.

  2. Also, remember that my body neutrality thing is in the context of aspiring for neutrality more generally about many things. I love our disagreements because, as you say, there’s a lot of love and trust and history there. So it’s always friendly and informative, not combative and competitive.

    I can also appreciate that in lots of ways, since I am not seen by others as fat, my engagement with body image issues at all can lead to eye rolls. Like you say, body positivity is more of a radical statement if you’ve got a body that social attitudes try to tell you isn’t appropriate to love as is. I know you’re not giving me the side eye in any way, but I think commentary on these issues is differently received depending on the speaker.

    1. I’m so not cool. I had to google “side eye.” Anyway, no definitely not. I am interested in the way we see things differently and I’m interested too in the extent to which that follows from or is connected to our histories and sizes. So for me the body hating forces have always been external. They’ve had faces and names, like the guy who yelled “fat bitch” at my bike. Clearly he had a view! So I’m outside the norm of thinness for women, no history of eating disorders, and the people who say bad things to be about my size are external. There are obvious bad guys who’ve shaped my defensive strategies, whether those strategies are the “fit fattie” narrative–said to the yelling guy, “hey, shut up I’m in great shape and I can ride a bike faster than you” or the body positive narrative, loving my body for all that it can do. Both of those narratives have defects. Health imperative, ableism. But you can see how they’re connected to my story. Your story is quite different and so our views are similar but not the same. Whether experience counts for all the differences we’ll never know but fun to think about. Have a great weekend!

  3. Hmmmm ..I guess I would be more on the Tracy side here, though in a slightly different way. I don’t want to even give my body that amount of thought. Especially now, with some terrible arthritis flare ups, to be able just to live and not think about how my body is aching, or wonder if my arthritic elbow can handle the groceries today seems heavenly to me. I guess I wish I could not have my body take up such brain space period.

  4. A lot of the criticism of “body positive” that I’ve read comes from people with disability or chronic illness who have a more adversarial relationship with their bodies. However, digging for a link is failing me so I encourage folks interested in that angle to go a-googling…

  5. Sam, it’s going to take a while to digest your post and the comments. My own history is one of being constantly policed about my body size and food intake (for as long as I can remember, even as a small child), and constantly feeling ashamed of my body and not good enough for public acceptance, which I always wanted. Maybe, like the article Tracy cites, my body neutrality is a stepping stone of some sort. But what I’m really shooting for is awareness, attention, action, care. Oh my knee is acting up again. I’ll ice it. Wow, I just bounded up those stairs– go me! Okay, I’m feeling like trying that plank on the wall in my yoga ropes class– Oh God, here I go! Man, I am so full– I really ate a lot. How do I feel now? What do I need now? Thanks to you for the thought-provoking post.

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