Posts on body positivity have been floating around social media as pushback to diet culture. These messages encourage folks to fall and stay in love with their bodies, regardless of what they look and feel like.
Still, body shame is prevalent and has tangible effects. That means the pressure to feel great about your body each and every day may feel unattainable.
When we talk about bodies, health, and nutrition, it can feel hard to be stuck between forced positivity or shame coming from healthcare professionals.
To break down the concept of body neutrality and learn about its importance, read on to hear from health and body image experts.
Shana Spence RDN, CDN of Nutrition Tea: It’s the understanding that we are not always going to love our bodies for various reasons, but we should have a respect for them.
Nutrition Therapist and Intuitive Eating Counselor Ayana Habtemariam MSW, RD, LDN of Truly Real Nutrition: Life just comes with transitions and so do our bodies. [They’re] meant to evolve. We have to make an effort and find a way to adjust.
Dalina Soto, MA, RD, LDN of Your Latina Nutrition: It’s important for everyone to know that you won’t love your body every day, and that’s okay. You still need to nourish it and take care of it.
Jessi Kneeland, author and body neutrality coach: Given the world we live in, I do genuinely believe the mentality [of body neutrality] is our birthright. It’s just seeing your body for what it is.
This means it’s failing to champion the folks who need the most support.
“Body positivity has really become a movement for thin women who have belly rolls when bending over,” says Spence, a self-proclaimed “eat anything” dietitian who pushes against food restriction and body shaming.
“It’s a far cry from the movement that fat black women started which was about bringing to light actual weight stigma and discrimination that those in larger bodies face,” she says.
Of course, your personal approach to nurturing your body is completely up to you.
Still, it’s important to recognize that pushing a general and total body positivity perspective does nothing to address the
This discrimination is amplified for those who are BIPOC, disabled, neurodivergent, LGBTQ+, or any other marginalized identity.
“You can’t self-love your way out of the way society treats you.”
— Shana Spence, RDN, CDN
All of the experts spoke about their desire for folks of varied sizes, genders, sexualities, abilities, races, and ethnicities to feel at home in their bodies, despite what Western media may portray.
What is the benefit of having different types of bodies represented in the nutrition and health space?
Habtemariam: Representation fosters a sense of community and belonging. If diverse bodies were adequately represented, more people would feel safe within these spaces.
Marisa Moore, RDN, LD: Representation matters and can have a direct impact on healthcare outcomes. Having providers who can deliver size-friendly care helps reduce biases and other barriers to effective care.
Having different types of bodies represented in the nutrition and health space normalizes that healthiness shows up in many different shapes, sizes, forms, and faces.
Spence: The space is overwhelmingly white, able-bodied, and straight-sized, so people who don’t identify in those categories have a hard time believing that advice or messages can apply to them.
Especially when talking about cultural foods because so many cultural foods are on the “do not eat” lists (white rice, bread, potatoes, tropical fruits, etc.) that diet culture gives out until the industry finds a way to make a profit off of them.
Christie Melonson, LPC and Regional Psychotherapy Director with Mindpath Health: This legitimizes the fact that different types of bodies exist naturally, and that people are supposed to look different. This emphasizes the idea that one size does not fit all.
Valerie Agyeman, RD, and Women’s Health Dietitian with Flourish Heights: There is also a lack of imagery all around, especially when it comes to skin complexion and even hair textures.
There is a gap and the only way for it to be filled is if the mainstream media puts more diverse faces and voices at the forefront of wellness.
Kneeland: I feel it’s the very least that we can do right now. Good lord, can we just have regular people being shown?
It just seems like the simplest way to make things a tiny bit less oppressive, because when you see people of all shapes and bodies and abilities and genders represented, then you are in a position of being able to see yourself.
Soto: Body diversity is real, so we need people of all body types and abilities doing all types of movement and just living life.
“Representation matters and can have a direct impact on healthcare outcomes. Having providers who can deliver size-friendly care helps reduce biases and other barriers to effective care.”
— Marisa Moore, RDN, LD
These experts are doing their part to shift the state of our health systems, either by consulting with businesses and organizations about how they treat their employees or working directly with folks who want to better their overall health.
They shared some of their lessons learned thus far and their hopes for healthcare moving forward.
What have you learned about your own body through this work?
Habtemariam: My needs are ever-changing. There is no such thing as a perfect way for me to eat or move my body. It changes depending on the season of life that I’m in.
Melissa Alazraki RD, CDCES of Culina Health: I am a woman in America and came of age in the 90’s, so I have plenty of my own noise around weight and body and eating behaviors — I’m on the journey too.
I’ve learned that I can trust my body to tell me when it’s full. I’ve learned to be kinder to myself. I’ve also learned to respond to changes in my body’s size and shape in an objective, nonchalant way.
Patrilie Hernandez, CEO of Embody Lib: I was diagnosed with an eating disorder when I was 32 at the time, so I was older than what we think of when people are diagnosed with an eating disorder. I lived in a larger body. I was a person of color.
Standout: “A narrative in many communities of color is that ‘people like us’ don’t get eating disorders. That’s a ‘white woman thing.’
That kind of opened the door for healing but also a lot of learning and a lot of unlearning around what this means in communities like mine, and how this points to larger systemic issues that drive folks to feel like disordered eating is the only way to survive.”
What is one thing you want people to understand when it comes to health and their body size?
Habtemariam: Despite what we all have been conditioned to believe, you are not obligated to pursue society’s shallow, one-dimensional idea of health. We can define what health is for ourselves.
Agyeman: We really need to look at the bigger picture and redefine “healthy.”
We need to look at it from a whole health standpoint looking at personalized, sustainable lifestyle changes that benefit both emotional and physical health through things like sleep hygiene, stress management, mental and emotional health, access to nutritious foods and resources.
does not dictate or determine health. Because you can be a thin person who’s unhealthy or a fat person who’s healthy.”
— Jessie Kneeland, Body Neutrality Coach
So given that that’s true, we can just separate these things for the rest of our lives and never think about it again, and instead look at habits instead of weight as markers for health.
Melonson: BMI is not an accurate measure of whether an individual is healthy or not.
[When it comes to health] it is important to consider additional factors such as body composition, muscle mass, where fat is distributed as well as the presence or absence of disease and our ability to do what we need to do with our bodies.
Spence: There are plenty of folks in larger bodies who eat nutritious foods, exercise, and have great lab work, but are still told to lose weight.
I also want to make it clear that health is not a moral value. Someone’e worth does not equate to their health status. Not just because of genetics but because of the systemic barriers in place.
When terms become commonplace on the internet, it can be hard to cut through the noise and get to the root of it may really mean.
When it comes to health and wellness spaces, many of us have been subject to messaging that pushes either changing who we are or loving our bodies no matter what. For many, neither of those options feel feasible.
But, body neutrality is about accepting your body for what it is and doing what you can to take care of it.
These body neutral and nutrition focused experts agree that shifting away from practices that solely center weight is paramount, and that fatness is not a measure of health or worth.
As the new year rolls in, consider centering your wellness from a holistic sense and doing what feels good for you. If you’re looking for support, the experts above may be able to help or point you in the right direction of someone in your area!
The responses above have been edited for brevity.