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body neutral

I’m Bored with Beauty and Body Love. I’d like to be Body Neutral.

KD – Square Images-07

Written by Kelly Diels

I’m kinda not feeling the ‘love your body’ message.

You know what I want? I want to be free not to feel anything about my body.

I don’t feel any kind of way about my intellect, for example. I’ve got one. I use it.

That’s how I want to feel about my body. Like it’s just part of me and I use it.

My body is not an enemy…

…and just as I refuse to be required to be at war with my body, I also don’t want to be required to fall in love with my body.

The very notion that I have to feel love for my body sometimes feels like an inverted bizarre form of sexism to me. As a woman, I don’t feel required to love my brain — why are women in particular required to do all this extra work to love our bodies?

Emily McCombs, an editor at xo Jane, summed up the gendered burden of being required to learn to love your body like this: “But here’s the thing — I don’t love my body, and I don’t think I should have to. Both loving your body and hating your body involve putting much more thought into each individual cross-section of your human suit than one should rightfully need to.”

Yes. What she said.

The non-gendered and neutral way I experience my intellect is how I want to experience my body, too.

Anyway. I’m not saying this to invalidate the work of my peers who work around embodiment. I like that work a lot. I’m actually more interested in the mind-body connection than ever before and what I’m speaking to here is the positioning of that work in the marketplace. Marketing that pushes the you-are-beautiful/love-your-body message specifically pushes me away.

I’m 43. I’m over the mainstream nonsense about beauty and bodies and women. I’m myself and that’s the only person I’m trying to be. Seeing my own beauty and body love are not problems I’m trying to solve.

Here are the problems I’m trying to solve: overwhelming stress. Exhaustion. My fried central nervous system is making me verrrrrrry reactive and that’s bad for relationships and creativity. It’s also a highly unpleasant state to reside in.

I want more calm. More energy. I want to know how to sustain myself through a really challenging career hurdle and come through like a phoenix rather than a wadded-up dishtowel.

In other words, I want to stave off burnout.

Therapist Shulamit Ber Levtov has an approach that’s shifted things for me. She told me that burnout means it’s imperative that you discharge stress from your body — and to do that, you need to use your body. She teaches her clients to experiment with all kinds of different bodily practices and paths into calming the mind and central nervous system.

None of those are her words. They’re mine. The reason I’m telling you this is because my curiosity about her method is one the first times I’ve been interested in work like this and it’s because it’s about using my body as a solution to discharging stress rather than working on loving my body.

Her approach, it seems to me, doesn’t assume that I dislike my body or require that I feel any kind of way about my body at all.

And that’s why I’m paying attention to what she’s doing and why I’m frequently telling other people about her.

Now, when it comes to body-based work, I might not be the Every Client or your particular Ideal Client. I also don’t want to dismiss how rejecting our culture’s toxic messages about body and self-worth is essential to your well-being — especially when our culture is hostile to the skin you’re in. I think there are specific people and groups of people who have been profoundly traumatized by a cultural, political hatred of the kind of body they inhabit. Sonya Renee Taylor of The Body is Not an Apology calls this “body terrorism” and counters it; as does Elizabeth Cooper in her superbly interesting series of interviews called Queer Body Love. I’m definitely not speaking against this kind of counterculture and essential work. (If you’re working with people unlearning trauma and body terrorism, ignore me! I’m definitely not taking issue with your work. DEFINITELY NOT.)

I’m predicting that there’s a segment of the audience who has already done some of this radical acceptance work and can be repelled by mainstream women-beauty-body-love marketing messages because it can feel simplistic, like a form of pink pandering.

I’ll do work if it’s functional and neutral and I can see a reason to do it. I don’t see any reason to do body-love work, and that’s because at this point I’ve got eight years of thinking that my former body-hatred was a cultural implant and by now I’ve *mostly* rejected it.

(I did a bunch of work on this from 2008-2012. Fat acceptance and sex-positivity were massive personal liberations for me, but neither of them attracted me with body-love messages. They attracted me by speaking out against the mainstream messages creating my internal dissonance and by showing me a new possibility: freedom. )

If I don’t hate myself then I don’t struggle to love myself, you know?

I guess what I’m saying is that I suspect I’m not the only one. I suspect that some of us don’t hate ourselves AND we still want to figure out how to use our bodies to manage stress, get more energy and get more calm in our lives — and we’d LOVE it if you marketed to us like that. I’d like marketers to start realizing that women are not necessarily seeking beauty and body-love. That might not be the primary driver for every woman (and the more work we do in our culture to destabilize the beauty and body myths, the more that will be true and the less those messages will hook us). I think a lot of us are looking for body neutrality and a sustainable antidote to overwhelm and exhaustion. Talk to us about that.

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