Body Shaming, Body Positivity or Body Neutrality – What do our bodies actually want to tell us?
These days you don’t need to be a therapist to understand that most of us are not content with our bodies. Some people want a few pounds less on their ribs, others don’t like their noses, or are unhappy with their height.
Hardly anyone would claim to be completely satisfied with their body – after all, there is always something that could be optimised. Once you’ve dropped the kilos, you can just as well go straight into muscle building…you could do with a nicer backside, and how can you even go to the beach with rolls on your belly?!
The film “Embrace”, which was released by director Tyron Bumfitt a few years ago, made big waves around the subject of body shaming and jumped to number one in Germany within a few days – it seems to have had its finger on the pulse of the times.
The WHO published the following figures, which make us gulp:
- Every second 15-year-old girl and every third boy feel they’re too fat – even though they’re not overweight.
- 38 percent of girls and 48 percent of boys are dissatisfied with their bodies. In an international comparison, Germany is at the bottom of the list with regard to body positivity.
- Every third girl older than 13 watches their weight regularly.
Dissatisfaction with one’s body seems to have become a cultural ailment that affects more and more people. How did that happen and how can we as a society increase our body awareness and see our bodies again for what they actually are? Or should we start by asking: why do we even have a body?
In this blog post we would like to take you on a journey through the topic of body awareness and point out perspectives for learning to once again recognise your body as a great miracle that is available to you day in and day out to fulfil your goals and dreams.
Body image as the basis for a healthy self-image
Experts agree that body image – starting in early childhood – lays the foundation for a healthy self-image later. If we let the word “self-awareness” melt on our tongue, it is actually already obvious: It consists of the parts “self” and “awareness”. Meaning that we should become aware or conscious of ourselves. Of course, this applies to both the mental and the physical level – but let’s first look at the physical elements.
To become aware of my body, the best thing would be that from an early age I understood that I can interact with the world through my body.
This normally happens by: touching, grabbing, crawling, falling down, getting back up again …and much more.
Of course, seeing, hearing and tasting also contribute. We notice that we have a conversation with the outside world through movements.
Statements like “You’re going to fall!”, “Put that down right away!” or “That’s not going to work!” can have an early impact on our body awareness and thus our self-confidence and – to put it simply – confuse us in this regard.
Another hurdle to body awareness is the fact that in today’s society, external stimuli distract us from ourselves. This refers specifically to media messages such as television programmes, magazines, social media or poster advertising. In these we are constantly confronted with other people’s bodies that are “perfect” and supposed to be an example for us.
In this way, we are led further and further away from our own self-awareness, we focus on supposedly “perfect” bodies (whatever they may look like closer up) and a downward spiral of comparison is triggered: “My belly is much bigger”, “I don’t have beautiful hair like this person “or” I have to look like this to be happy”.
Good thing we have the Body Positivity movement – or not?!
When people became fed up with the exaggerated ideals of beauty presented by the media industry, a new trend arose in social media and called itself “Body Positivity”.
The advertising industry quickly jumped on that bandwagon. Physical “flaws” should now be put on public display on Instagram etc.: Bring out the stretch marks and brag about the pimples.
“Love your body, no matter what it looks like!” almost comes across as an imperative. Everything that was previously regarded as “not presentable” is now dragged into the spotlight and everyone must stare at it.
It soon became clear that Body Positivity has the same aim that we’ve become familiar with: more obsession with our bodies, this time only at the other extreme. You can only be allowed into the inner circle if you also have flaws to display.
We don’t want to play the bogeyman here – the idea itself is not that bad and we can also understand what the Body Positivity Movement actually wanted to achieve. The question remains: is this the thing that will lead us to more body awareness and thus self-awareness or is it just another distraction from reality? Because to feel forced to love your own body under all circumstances can trigger similar stress as the obsession to look like the Instagram stars.
Body Neutrality replaces Body Positivity: are we getting down to business now?
It didn’t take long for the Body Positivity movement to be replaced by the “Body Neutrality Movement”. In this case, it’s not about loving your body no matter what, but rather developing a neutral stance towards it.
Accepting your body as it is anyway sounds a lot more pleasant than loving it fervently with all its flaws and celebrating it daily with obsessive self-love.
Here, too, the basic idea is commendable: away from over-identification with your body and towards your inner life – the great treasure lies hidden there, after all. Who needs a body anyway?
Unfortunately, we don’t get off that easily in this case either. Of course it’s important to detach yourself from all the ideals of beauty and consider the body neutrally. It’s also healthy to concentrate on your mental capacities and not to be constantly preoccupied with your appearance. But to treat it like a stepchild and neglect it?
No wonder that supposed healing mantras, such as “Only the inside counts”, “Beauty comes from the inside” or “It is not about how you look”, push many people’s buttons and make them angry. Because the outside is also important, after all – it’s just not politically correct to say so.
However, if we understand what the deeper truth is that is concealed here, we can get to know and love our body away from all extreme positions and superficialities.
What do our bodies actually want to tell us?
The body is an extremely important component for being human. After all, it does give our minds the opportunity of having certain experiences – like caressing someone or just being in contact with the ground.
Apart from that, the body is also an intelligent miracle that stores a huge database of information gained over the course of our lives, which the mind may not even be able to remember in its conscious state. In psychology this is referred to as “Body Memory”.
Think of it this way: when we experience general anaesthesia, for example, the mind is immobilised and we are put into an artificial sleep. However when you wake up, your body remembers what happened and stores this information, but your mind will not remember anything.
It works in a similar way with traumatic experiences, which we all collect in different permutations and forms in the course of our lives. The mind is so intelligent that it can easily encase and “lock away” certain events – including traffic accidents, for example. Because the experience cannot be processed and we still want to survive, it must virtually disappear – actually a very intelligent survival strategy.
It often happens that the body starts hauling up such locked away memories during supposedly quite banal situations in the form of pain or fear that cannot be explained logically.
For many people this is when healing can start. Quite marvellous, the body, isn’t it?
The physical body as the entrance to the world of our emotions
“Using both body and mind we can understand the shape and sound of things. They work together as one. However, it is not like the reflection of a shadow in a mirror, or the moon reflected in water. If you only look at one side, the other side remains dark.”
Dōgen Zenji, Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher
At the end of the day, our body is a reflection of the state of our mind. If it is well with our soul, as the hymn goes, it will also always be reflected in a healthy body. Nevertheless, it is also important to look after your body and in so doing to support your mind.
Exactly our guiding principle for developing Humanoo. To help you support both body and mind with more than 1,500 coaching sessions – for example with physiotherapy, meditations, or tips for healthy eating. Many studies have since shown that this really works.
In the documentary “Heal” (available on Netflix), director Kelly Noonan Gores demonstrates scientifically that our thoughts, beliefs and emotions also have a major impact on our physical health. Many well-known scientists are of the same opinion.
Body awareness as a compass for a fulfilled life
Whether we practice body positivity or body neutrality – in the end we should not be obsessively and constantly evaluating our bodies, but rather consciously observe them in order to understand what deep truth is concealed beneath what we perceive and how it is trying to make itself known.
Buddhist practice also teaches people to observe physical experiences like fear consciously in their bodies and to understand their relationship to it. In this way, the body can be a gateway to the soul and provide us with valuable (self-) knowledge.
If we regard our bodies as compasses and signal generators, we can find the way to our innermost core and have a holistic experience of body, mind and soul. In the end, this is the basis for being a conscious person, for serenity, joy and abundance in our lives.
We hope you enjoyed this article and that it inspires you to support your body in all of its important processes. We look forward to your feedback and your personal experiences around the subject of body awareness. In our next article, we will give you specific tips for practical implementation of body awareness in everyday life.
Until very soon, Your Humanoo team