Topic Tuesday: Body Neutrality

“Seeking Body Neutrality” (By: Jessica Smith)

I have never loved my body.  I would even go as far to say for most of my life, I have actually hated my body.  In the past, I used to experience intense feelings of disgust to my appearance in a photo or in my reflection.  It didn’t seem to matter what size I was because I always found a way to pick myself apart as I searched for meaning in the mirror.

Much of the time I relied on humor to manage my intense body dissatisfaction.  Self-deprecation was my currency, but I was always coming up short.  Laughing on the outside, I would make fun of myself while trying to hide how insecure I felt on the inside.  I avoided shorts and swimsuits at all costs, reveling in the wintertime when I could nestle safely beneath my oversized sweatshirts and hoodies.

Then, I had a child.  Children, as you may know, delight in visiting local swimming pools and splash pads.  They also delight in having their mothers experience these summer activities with them.  Was I going to allow my snarling inner critic to dictate what kind of mother I would be?  Something awakened inside of me.  I was tired of watching from the sidelines.  I became fed up with missing out on activities and having zero memories of vacations besides calorie counting and obsessing over fitting in workouts.

When my son was 3.5 years old, I finally entered eating disorder recovery in earnest.  Without going into detail, I had been battling an eating disorder of some sort since around the age of 12…the better part of twenty years.  There were many reasons for wanting to heal, but the most pressing was my relationship with my husband and son.

They say body image is the last mountain to climb in the world of ED recovery, and that has most certainly been the case for me.  Our culture is not one that supports and encourages the development of a healthy body image.  We are constantly bombarded with messaging intended to create in us a sense of discontent.  This is because for every possible perceived flaw, there exists a product promising to “fix” it-for a cost.

Whether our insecurity is our cellulite, our stretch marks, our hair, or our eyelashes, the only way to find peace with ourselves is to embrace the idea of acceptance.  We can find little ways to boost our self-confidence and enhance our natural beauty, and these things are all okay, but ultimately we must accept that bodies are finite and destined to change.  These vessels we inhabit were never meant to exist in one form for the duration of our existence.  We shrink, we grow.  We stretch, we sag.  We wrinkle, we droop.  Such is the nature of gravity, time, and the human body.

But how do we get there?  How do we begin to accept the things we hate?  Recently there have been rumblings promoting body love and body positivity, and these messages are a necessary pivot from those of the past.  However, I have always found it difficult to love certain parts of me.  What I have found most helpful is the idea of body neutrality.  Body neutrality begins with simply acknowledging your body for what it is-a body.  It is neither good nor bad.  It just is.  I have aches and pains from old injuries.  I have scars and funny little wrinkles from housing human life.  I have cellulite, moles, and dark circles.  These details can give insight into the story of my life, but they say nothing regarding value or purpose.

For me, aiming for body neutrality has been attainable and rewarding.  I have begun healing my relationship with my body, and I no longer experience pain or disgust after seeing myself in the mirror.  There are still areas of my body I don’t like, but I don’t have to.  I don’t have to change them, either.  I’ve learned to challenge those thoughts that tell me I am not worthwhile if I don’t look a certain way.  I acknowledge that beauty is a social construct, and my body is just a place my soul resides.  I notice all the ways my body works for me: my heart beats, my lungs breathe, and my spirit loves.  Despite all the abuse I’ve put it through, my body presses on.  I don’t have to love it to appreciate what it does for me every single day.  I am content, and contentment feels like freedom.

About the Author

Jessica is a self-professed “hot mess mama” who resides in Old Hickory with a wily black cat, her easy-going husband, and their 5-year-old ball of energy, Tucker.  Having spent many years of her life battling serious eating disorders and a complicated relationship with exercise, she is now passionate about sharing the messages of hope and freedom found in recovery.  Jessica is a graduate of the Belmont University School of Nursing, and she spent many joyful years working in pediatrics and intensive care.  She currently spends her days as a stay-at-home mom managing all the things while trying not to take life too seriously.  Her hobbies include reading, photography, pretending to be a gardener, and avoiding writing in the third person.