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Body Neutrality in Recovery: How to Reject Toxic, Unrealistic Body Standards

Curly haired overweight young woman in grey top

For many people in recovery from an eating disorder, one of the most important aspects of achieving and maintaining a lasting, successful recovery is developing a healthy body image.

Diet culture messaging often plays into the framework that sets the societal standard for how individuals should ideally look, weigh, and dress in order to be deemed attractive. When someone is already dealing with a negative body image or disordered eating, their body dissatisfaction is only worsened by this toxic messaging in the media. For this reason, it’s essential to reframe your thoughts and feelings about your body, so that you can work toward accepting body neutrality.

With that said, let’s take a deeper dive into how unrealistic body standards are created, what steps you can take to reject unrealistic body standards, and what the concept of body neutrality is all about.

How Unrealistic Body Standards Are Created

Historically, people’s perceptions of what makes someone attractive have continually evolved over the past centuries, and as a result, body image issues have persisted. From media labels to marketing ploys, diet culture messaging has significantly contributed to the framework that sets that standard for how individuals should ideally look, dress, and weigh. 

For instance, when an advertisement emphasizes certain body insecurities to remind consumers of their own body dissatisfaction, it often makes that person much more likely to spend their money on the product or company doing the advertising.

For many businesses, this marketing strategy confirms the concept that promoting the thin ideal body type is the most successful way of selling their product, only further perpetuating the destructive cycle of diet culture messaging.

Moreover, when viewing the media – whether it be on TV, social media, or even physical print magazines – almost all commercials and ads feature unrealistically thin, attractive people. Psychologically, companies do this to sell their concept that one must be deemed by society as thin and attractive in order to be happy.

Through consistent exposure to media advertisements and marketing campaigns, consumers are likely to be easily convinced of the concepts businesses are selling, ultimately creating and prolonging unrealistic body image standards.

How To Reject Toxic, Unrealistic Body Standards

Although our society will most likely always create and maintain ideal perceptions of attractiveness, there are still strategies you can use to resist buying into toxic diet culture messaging. Let’s talk about some key ways you can reject unrealistic body standards and maintain a healthy body image.

Re-Evaluate Social Media

Social media platforms often present an idealized version of reality, showcasing carefully curated images that may not accurately reflect the diversity of body shapes, sizes, and appearances. This curated content can contribute to unrealistic body standards, especially when others compare their own bodies to ones in the media.

Since body comparison is strongly associated with body dissatisfaction, it’s crucial to re-evaluate the accounts you surround yourself with on social media. By unfollowing any triggering accounts and following people who choose to embrace all body types, social media exposure may provide a more realistic and empowering perspective. Exposure to a variety of body images can help normalize differences and challenge the narrow beauty ideals perpetuated by mainstream media.

Practice Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations can be a powerful tool in improving body image by reshaping one’s mindset and encouraging self-acceptance. When someone consistently engages in positive self-talk, they actively challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about their bodies. Affirmations promote a more constructive and compassionate internal dialogue, encouraging people to focus on their strengths and unique qualities rather than fixating on perceived flaws.

Positive affirmations can be incorporated into your day in numerous ways, including spoken words, written notes, or digital reminders. Here are some useful positive affirmations you can use when rejecting harmful, unrealistic body standards:

  • I am more than my appearance. My worth is not determined by my body size or shape.
  • My body is unique and deserves love and respect, and I am grateful for all the incredible things my body can do. 
  • I release the need to compare myself to others. My journey is unique, and I celebrate the diversity of bodies around me without judgment.
  • I am not defined by societal standards of beauty. I define my own beauty by the love and kindness I show to myself and others.
  • My body is ever-changing, and that’s okay. Change is a natural part of life, and I embrace it with patience and self-compassion.

Befriend Your Body

Appreciating your body and embracing a consistent practice of self-care can be transformative in promoting a healthy body image. Befriending your body involves cultivating a positive relationship with it, appreciating its unique strengths, and recognizing its inherent value beyond aesthetic criteria. By acknowledging the incredible things your body enables you to do, you shift the focus from appearance to functionality, fostering a sense of gratitude and self-acceptance.

Taking intentional steps to nurture your body, mind, and spirit is an integral part of this process, as it communicates a message of self-worth and prioritizes holistic well-being. This can include activities like mindful exercise, nourishing your body with balanced nutrition, ensuring adequate rest, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. In doing so, you affirm that your body deserves care and attention regardless of how much it fits into society’s idea of “attractiveness.”

What is Body Neutrality?

The concept of body neutrality emphasizes a different approach to body positivity, in that people should not think of their bodies in a positive or negative way whatsoever. Instead of focusing on the physical qualities of what your body looks like, body neutrality encourages people to practice focusing on what functions their body serves them.

In contrast with the body positivity movement, which advocates loving your body no matter what, body neutrality acknowledges that unconditional “positivity” sets unrealistic standards and expectations for most individuals. Body neutrality recognizes that it’s normal for people to have fluctuations in how they feel about their bodies. Many people find body neutrality to be more authentic and realistic as opposed to false positivity, which can often come across as forced or unrealistic.

Here are some ways to practice body neutrality:

  • Practice intuitive eating: Choose foods that provide essential nourishment for your body, but also be sure to include the foods you crave or love as well.
  • Reconsider movement and exercise: Go for physical activities that you enjoy instead of ones that feel like a punishment.
  • Eliminate body comparisons: Since body dissatisfaction can stem from comparison with others, reducing exposure to triggers that may cause these comparisons is key.
  • Set boundaries: Shut down any conversations about body image that make you feel uncomfortable, or redirect them to more body-neutral discussions.

Improving Body Image and Adopting Body Neutrality in Eating Disorder Recovery

We know that maintaining a healthy body image and rejecting toxic, unrealistic body standards is often much easier said than done, especially when co-occurring psychological symptoms are present.

If you or a loved one is struggling with negative body image or an unhealthy relationship with food, know that you are not alone. At VERY, our compassionate team of professionals specializes in treating all types of eating disorders with an integrative, collaborative approach that significantly boosts your chances of achieving successful, lasting recovery.

Schedule a free consultation today to learn more about how VERY can support you along your recovery journey.