5/100 — Some thoughts on 'body neutrality'

Lately, when I’m commuting and can’t be bothered with a paper book, I’ve been reading Laura Thomas’s  Just Eat It on my phone. Her exasperation with diet culture gives me life. Here’s an example:

You might be thinking, ‘uhhhh, I’m not on a diet’. And sure, you might not be going to Weight Watchers or Slimming World, but let’s talk about all the subtle ways we can be on a diet or attempting to control our eating. Maybe your plan was to ‘eat clean’, maybe challenge yourself to the Whole 30; just do what the bloggers do. It’s a lifestyle. It’s about balance. It’s a fucking diet.

I don’t like reading on my phone, so it’s slow going, but yesterday I reached the chapter on ‘body neutrality’. I’ve come across this concept before: body neutrality is body positivity’s less glamorous sibling. Instead of learning to treasure every curve and dimple, the goal is to simply be okay with the fact of having this body. It’s neither a good nor a bad thing – it just is.

According to the book, part of body neutrality is the ability to buy clothes for the body one has, rather than waiting for a slimmer time or even buying ‘goal clothes’ that don’t fit (‘yet’). Reading that reminded me that I haven’t bought any clothes in a while. When I stopped running last year due to injury, I still continued to eat like I was running, and my weight went up. Not dramatically, but there came a point when I didn’t fit into my jeans anymore. Knowing I would run again, I didn’t want to buy new clothes only for them to get too big a few months into training. And now it’s somehow April, and I haven’t bought new clothes since … I don’t even remember. But spring is in the air, my closet is almost entirely black, and some items just need replacing. So I went shopping today.

excuse the haphazardly tucked t-shirt, I would not walk around like this

excuse the haphazardly tucked t-shirt, I would not walk around like this

I don’t necessarily dislike my body; it’s more than I’m confused by it. I find it difficult to dress, mostly because my shape does not correspond with where my mind is on the gender spectrum, a discrepancy that gets worse when I gain weight. And of course I’m not immune to the general societal pressure to be ‘slim’.

I know that diet culture is bullshit. I’m annoyed to no end by talk about ‘guilt’ around food or the endless calculations about how we can ‘work off’ the food we’ve eaten that many of us do. I know I’ve never looked at another person (that I can remember) and had any negative feelings about their body. I don’t care what other people look like! That I should be held to a different standard than everybody else makes no sense. But here we are: there is a part of me that thinks that if I was thinner, or more athletic, I’d be a slightly better person. Not much; but a little more confident, and deserving of that confidence.

It is a weird feeling, and I did experience it in the changing room today. But I’m happy to say that my thinking is shifting from ‘I need a personal trainer’ to ‘I need a personal shopper’ (my actual thought is ‘I need Tan France’, but who doesn’t). I’m even happier to say I found clothes today that aren’t black, and I think they fit.

I’ve experienced true body neutrality before. It was in late 2017, around the time I ran my first half marathon. It was a hilly beast and I’d trained really hard to be able to do it. When I realised I’d lost quite a bit of weight, I found I didn’t care all that much. What I really cared about was the ease with which I could walk up stairs. How I was rarely ever out of breath. The energy I had. The way my thighs felt solid, substantial. I’m back to running again now not because I want to lose weight; I’m back at it because I want that feeling of being capable again. I want that confidence that makes me a slightly better person. It has nothing to do with the size of my body, and everything with what it can do.