Body positivity and body shaming are two terms that have been very popular in the fitness world. Body positivity refers to the assertion that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture view ideal shape, size and appearance. Body shaming is the act or practice of subjecting someone to criticism or mockery for some supposed fault or imperfection related to physical appearance.
In both of these circumstances, how we feel INTERNALLY is determined by what we think or what we are told about ourselves EXTERNALLY. Both of these lead to an action of comparing ourselves to some “ideal” standard.
What happens if, instead of basing our feelings about ourselves on how we LOOK, we focus on what our bodies can DO?! Rather than body positivity and body shaming, where we focus on physical appearance, we can shift our mindset to body neutrality, where the main focus is on function or what your body can do for you.
If you’ve ever struggled with body image issues, it’s really easy to think that your self-worth and your value as a person is directly related to how you look. When we start to think about body neutrality, we can focus on who we are as a person rather than what our container looks like.
When it comes to health and fitness, there are a number of benefits to a body-neutral approach:
- It can make fitness feel less stressful. We can stop worrying about how we look while we’re working out or worrying about what others are thinking about us in a fitness setting. You can truly let go of those insecurities and be yourself.
- It becomes easier to find workout motivation. When you workout with the goal of making your body look a certain way, you’re almost using exercise as punishment for not looking that way right now. If you don’t see the results in the mirror fast enough, that can also cause you to just give up and feel helpless. With body neutrality, we can focus on other reasons to exercise: to be able to pick up your kids, build energy levels, feel stronger, be able to go for a long hike with your friends, etc. You can use your exercise program to build mental toughness. When you conquer physically challenging tasks, that strength can spill over into other areas of your life and build your resilience. If you focus on building that mental strength and getting better everyday, it’s much more exciting than using your workouts as just a way to burn more calories.
- Focusing on body neutrality can also help put the focus on performance. If we focus solely on exercise for weight loss, we may use the healthiest habits to get us there. We might skip meals, try diet pills or over train. Under eating and over exercising can lead to fatigue, weakness, hormone imbalances, injuries, and other complications. If we focus on what our body can do for us, we can shift into healthier habits to properly fuel our body and recover, which will boost our performance!
- If you’ve been avoiding a certain type of exercise program or setting a specific goal because of how your body looks, shifting your mindset will allow you the confidence to try something new. When you take the focus off of how your body looks doing things, you’ll actually have the space to live your life and enjoy what your body can do.
Do you have a past version of your body that you would love to have again? Maybe it’s the body you had in high school or before you had kids. These past versions of ourselves can often bring up a lot of shame about our current body, and that shame makes it REALLY hard for us to feel good about our body now. Forget about what you used to look like! Easier said that done, but it will help release the pressure you’re putting on yourself. Be more present in your current life and stop focusing on your past self.
Shifting your mindset won’t happen overnight. Start with recognizing when you’re judging your body. Acknowledge when you’re using words that attach positive or negative value to your body.
Find an exercise program that you love. If you’re forcing yourself into a workout routine that you don’t enjoy, it’s not going to work in the long run. Find an exercise program that is fun for you, find coaches that you connect with, join a fitness community that accepts and supports you for who you are.
Set functional fitness goals. Setting goals that aren’t based on appearance or weight can be tricky if you haven’t done it before, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll start coming up with new goals with no problem. Set goals based on what your body can do. Maybe you want to lift a certain weight on your deadlift, run a certain number of miles without walking or hit a hard yoga pose. Set goals that inspire you to grow rather than guilt you into change.
Don’t live your life in a shame spiral, feeling bad about yourself because you don’t look a certain way. Live your best life by focusing on the amazing things your body can do for you!