"My body is neither beautiful nor ugly, it's the one I have"

The 'body neutral' movement vindicates the acceptance of the physique beyond aesthetic

Bet Coll-Vinent
4 min
Mannequins in a shop window

BarcelonaThe first step in talking to your daughter about her body is not to talk to your daughter about her body", sentenced the journalist Sarah Koppelkam in the famous article "How to talk to your daughter about her body", published in the Huffington Post in 2013 and went viral around the world. Although the concept of body neutral had not yet been devised, Koppelkam was ahead of the feminist claims currently being defended and emphasised the importance of taking the body out of the centre of the debate. Thus, the author was writing in tune with what we nowadays baptize as body neutrality. Body neutrality: a movement that advocates the normalization of the human body as a source of health without the need to constantly celebrate physical appearance. It values the ideas and actions of the individual beyond their aesthetic characteristics and argues that it is also natural to look in the mirror and not always feel at ease. The actress Júlia Barceló is one of the defenders of body neutral and often shares her activism on social media. "Body neutrality undermines the aesthetic appearance as a social value, understands the body from its functionality and defends that you don't need to feel beautiful every day to be able to respect yourself", she explains.

The myth of beauty

As discerned by the writer Naomi Wolf in her book The beauty myth, published in 1990, as the economy, laws, education and culture adapted to the demands of the second feminist wave -which was from the late 1960s to the late 1980s- to achieve equality, the beauty myth became a new tool to control women's actions and appearance. "We are imprisoned in a kind of aesthetic armor in which, no matter how many external freedoms women achieve, we feel a constant pressure that limits our personal and professional lives, as well as our sex-affective relationships", states Júlia Barceló, who defends body neutrality as a path and not as a final objective.

Mercedes Fernández-Martorell, feminist anthropologist and writer of books such as Capitalismo y cuerpo: crítica de la razón masculina (Capitalism and the Body: Critique of Male Reason) analyzes this phenomenon from a more structural point of view and recognizes that "the capitalist system itself is already a tool for the domination of women's bodies". In this context, the experts point out the difficulty of living isolated from aesthetic pressures, but note that body neutrality is a good resource to begin to value the functionality of the body: "It is our vehicle and we have to take care of it, not for aesthetics, but so that it works well", says psychologist Alba Alfageme i Casanova.

Beyond #BodyPositive

This new movement that has recently emerged takes over from the already famous and viral body positive an initiative born in the mid-70s that claimed that all bodies could be desirable and, incidentally, advocated an unconditional appreciation for the body. Although it championed the normalization and acceptance of female bodily diversity -mainly that which did not conform to canonical beauty standards-, it continued to focus the debate on the positivization of physical appearance. "It's impossible for you to always look the same. Every day you'll wake up with a different attitude and what happens with body positive is that, in order to feel good about yourself, you are forced to find daily reasons to validate that you are and that you are beautiful", says Ofèlia Carbonell, musician and writer, in one of the videos posted on her YouTube channel.

In the case of body neutrality, as the discourse does not revolve around the need to accept our physical appearance, but to value other aspects completely untied from aesthetics, it is much easier for everyone to feel included.

How to promote body neutrality?

Another key point that characterizes body neutrality is the superimposition of character over physical appearance. Alfageme explains that, "as women, we have always been told that in order to have any kind of social representation it can only be through beauty and never through personality". With the goal of leaving behind the toxic messages and contradictory positivism of advertisements, body neutral favors other aspects that also define us as human beings. "Instead of determining people according to what they have -beauty, money, power, influence...-, we have to be able to characterize them for what they are", says feminist anthropologist Mercedes Fernández-Martorell. This initiative is a good starting point to stop focusing all eyes on aesthetic appearance and focus them on self-knowledge, pleasure or body functionality. Barceló also stresses the importance of forgetting about prejudices and focusing on character when it comes to defining the person in front of us, since "liberation goes beyond our own bodies and also implies respect for other bodies". However, the underlying issue remains structural. "It is barbaric that we have to learn to deconstruct a problem that is not inherent in our human essence but is constructed by society", explains Alba Alfageme y Casanova, who adds that, despite the need to weave networks of sisterhood, "it is also important to confront the system". Resisting a structure that benefits daily from women's insecurities is not an easy task, but the experts agree that a first step to achieve it is to define oneself from neutrality and corroborate the following: my body is neither beautiful nor ugly; it is simply the one I have. And that's it.