Bodies are complicated. Every single day we have to feed them, groom them, dress them, give them sleep and exercise, deal with pain and sickness… It goes on and on. All of this can get exhausting, and most of us have days where we get frustrated or even resentful of our own bodies. Plus-sized people tend to face these feelings more than most, because unfortunately fatphobia is rampant across our media and within larger society. It can be obvious– think of fat suit scenes in 90% of comedies from the 2000s– or more subtle, such as limited sizing options in clothing stores or unsolicited weight loss compliments. These daily slights, large and small, can erode our self-confidence and sense of attractiveness, which has a cascade of negative effects. Body satisfaction is not only related to overall happiness but also physical health, dating, sex, and so much more. Luckily, improving your relationship with your body is very possible, at any size! You don’t have to lose weight to live a rich and joyful life. Body neutrality is a great framework to start reshaping your relationship with your body, feel more comfortable within your skin, and reap the benefits of your newfound confidence in your personal life and overall well being.

Body Neutrality: The Basics, as I See It

Many very smart people have written about body neutrality, and by all means I encourage you to dive headfirst into this area and read, read, read. With this blog, I want to provide some basics that by no means capture everything there is to say on this topic. Here is what body neutrality means to me, in essence:

Fat isn’t a bad word. When I was growing up, calling someone “fat” was a grave insult; practically a swear word. But in reality, it’s a descriptor, and shouldn’t have to be different than calling someone “tall” or “blond.” Fat activists are reclaiming this word and, in doing so, challenging the underlying assumption that fat is a bad thing to be. While it still isn’t a great idea to call someone fat unsolicited without knowing that this is an identity they claim for themselves, it’s important to know that some people are fat and proud to be, and that is valid. Someone who calls themselves fat isn’t necessarily putting themselves down, if they are thinking about it from a body neutral perspective.

Fat people are not, by nature, unhealthy

The notion that fat people are doomed to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and more is one that has long stood unchallenged in the medical community. New research has shed light on this area and shown that the links between weight and overall health are shaky at best (for a great book on this subject, check out Body of Truth by Harriet Brown!). People of all sizes and shapes can be healthy or unhealthy, and body neutrality encourages approaching the notion of health in a nuanced, personal way. Recognize that health looks different for every person, and that it is not our place to define “healthy” for anyone other than ourselves.

Health Decisions are Personal Business

Embracing fatness doesn’t mean vilifying thinness. A person’s size and shape, and what they do to change or maintain that size and shape, is their own choice. Body neutrality means not shaming people for gaining weight or for losing it. Even praise for body changes can often be harmful; complimenting people for losing weight carries the underlying message that the person looks better and is more attractive now that they are smaller. I would encourage us all to try giving compliments that are detached from size and weight, like “You’re glowing! You look so happy” or “that color looks great on you!” Compliments can be totally separate from appearance, too; “You’re so funny, you always make me laugh,” or “I appreciate your thoughtfulness,” always feel good to hear.

We All Have Bad Days

Personally, I choose body neutrality instead of body positivity because it gives me room to feel bad when I need to. It’s unrealistic to think that a person of any size loves their body every second of every day, and sometimes fatness does impact my life in a negative way. Ignoring that fact doesn’t leave room for being human and imperfect, which we all are. Also, there’s so much more to me than my size or what I look like, and body neutrality acknowledges that reality. Even a body image counselor like me has bad days (or days when I have so much more on my mind than what my body looks or feels like!).

You Deserve a Full Life Now

Body neutrality emphasizes the idea that every person is whole and worthy for so many reasons other than their size and appearance. While it’s totally okay to pursue weight loss if that’s a goal that you deem good for you, don’t deny or deprive yourself until you reach your ideal size. Even if you’re feeling bad about your body (it’s okay, it happens), you are worthy of adventure, joy, and connection, and the people in your life want that for you. My grandmother didn’t like to be in photos because she was ashamed of her weight, and now that she has passed away I don’t have many pictures of her, and that makes me sad. It’s something that I’ve vowed to avoid in my own life for the ones I love (hence, you can always catch me cheesing in pictures!). Live your best life now, for you and for the people who care about you.