Body Positivity vs. Body Neutrality: What's The Difference & What Should We Teach Our Children?

Body positivity is a continuously growing movement empowering people to accept and love their bodies. Although meant to be uplifting, some may struggle to adopt a body positive mentality. This is where striving for body neutrality may be beneficial. BALANCE Founder Melainie Rogers explains the difference between body positivity and body neutrality and how we can help children foster a healthy relationship with their bodies.

by: Melainie Rogers MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD

Body positivity focuses on empowering oneself to shift an often-critical mindset to one that encourages celebration, gratitude and love for your current body regardless of weight, shape or appearance. Body neutrality on the other hand promotes the idea of shifting thoughts about one’s body from criticism, and possible hatred, to a neutral state. With body neutrality, the idea of celebrating and loving one’s body is not the end goal, but rather it is finding a middle ground of acceptance.

There are a few ways to foster a body neutral mentality in kids. One of the simplest ways to encourage a child to have a neutral relationship to their body is emphasizing positive aspects about them that are not correlated with appearance. Although comments such as ‘you look so pretty today’ come from a place of good intention, it brings focus to the physical. We often miss opportunities to give kids positive feedback on the attributes that make them who they are, such as being a terrific student and a compassionate friend. By removing the focus on their physical body and appearance and highlighting other accomplishments, skills and traits they will be reminded that their uniqueness is not only more important, but not reliant on the physical.

This not only encourages a body neutral mentality, but builds a healthy self-esteem where they will be able to separate their worth from appearance. Which as we know, is something that can often be difficult in a society that puts so much value on body size, weight and appearance. Another important step is making sure you, the parent, are modeling this behavior in how you speak about yourself and others. By taking body talk completely off the radar, it sends a loud and clear message that there are far more important things to discuss and focus on beyond our bodies.

As a parent, expressing gratitude for what your body can do and showing appreciation and love no matter its shape or size is a great way to lead by example. One of the best ways to promote a body positive mentality with kids is discussing the fact that each and every person will have a different body. With this, it is important to highlight the fact that no one body type is of more value than others regardless of size or ability.

One of the big differences between body positivity and body neutrality is that in being body positive, there is still awareness and focus on the body. Although body positivity sounds like an inspiring and wonderful movement, for some, this approach can be problematic. For example, if a child is struggling deeply with negative body image, it may be hard to get them from a place of discontent to fully embracing their body. For a child struggling, the pressure to find body love may end up causing more distress and shame. In that case, body neutrality and finding acceptance for our body in its present form may be a healthier and more attainable goal.

I believe body neutrality is the ultimate goal as it truly encourages the idea of embracing all of our wonderful attributes, beyond the physical. But, when we consider the impact diet culture has on our society, it is evident we cannot fully shield children from developing body image concerns. With one study reporting children as young as 5 expressing dissatisfaction with their bodies, it is certainly easier said than done to maintain a body neutral mentality.

As parents, all we can do is try our best to model healthy relationships to our bodies and be aware should children begin expressing negative feelings and thoughts about their body. Addressing body dissatisfaction and exploring their reasonings will vary for each child.

In handling these situations, it may not be so much about choosing body positivity over body neutrality or vice versa – but simply aiming to lessen the time spent being focused on the physical body.  

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Melainie Rogers