Vice President of Public Engagement, Canadian Women’s Foundation
Many of us know about body positivity, or the ‘BoPo’ movement, and have come across its inspirational ideas and content online. But do you know about body neutrality?
With roots in the 1960s, body neutrality values the body’s abilities and nonphysical characteristics over its appearance. While bodies are often objectified, body neutrality deeply challenges the idea that the body is an object at all. It rejects the idea that how you look or how your body functions should dictate your worth.
For women, girls, gender-diverse people, and those whose bodies are marginalized in various ways by society, body neutrality is an important concept.
So why is body neutrality so powerful?
• Because some of us may feel ‘being positive about’ or ‘loving’ our bodies is impossible for various personal and societal reasons. We may feel anguish about not being able to ‘get into’ body positivity as others can. We may feel ‘betrayed’ by our bodies. Body neutrality can be a haven when we feel like the BoPo movement doesn’t work for us.
• Because we are not all made to feel safe and free in our bodies, and that’s not our fault. People with bodies that are marginalized by society know that loving your body doesn’t mean your body is loved back. It doesn’t mean your body is not policed, disrespected, and discriminated against. It doesn’t mean your body is accepted or accommodated. It doesn’t mean, for example, that you can navigate an inaccessible building or run safely while being Black. Body neutrality opens up room to address how we’re treated by society.
• Because many girls are directly or subtly taught that their worth comes from how they look, and that bodily changes are ‘bad.’ But bodies naturally change, especially during the rapid stages of development that young people go through. A BoPo focus may not leave room for that change. Body positivity might also feel like an endless trap of trying to keep our bodies from changing after reaching our own personal level of body acceptance. It may even lead to confidence issues, eating disorders, and an obsessive hyperfocus on our appearance rather than valuing our nonphysical merits.
The Canadian Women’s Foundation funds programs for 9- to 13-year-old girls and nonbinary youth to develop into confident, resilient people. These programs build skills, provide mentorship opportunities, and deepen self-esteem via STEM education, sports and physical activity, media literacy, and Indigenous culture and connection.