Written by Kira Sparkles.
Art by Kat Reisen.
When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression disorder. With that came a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms, including my ability to go long periods of time with an appetite that decreased so much it took a toll on my body.
This was something that continued on and off throughout my life but peaked when I was in my twenties. Being in a toxic relationship definitely didn’t help. Despite the fact that I had grown painfully thin, the focus wasn’t on what might be going on inside my head to make me lose the weight in the first place, instead, I was met with comments on my body.
Some people praised how skinny I had become, noting that I could be very successful at modeling. Some people said I needed to eat MORE. But the comments were always directly related to how I looked, not how I felt. If anyone asked me that question, I would have said that I felt completely miserable.
All of the above in mind, I started to hate my body that seemed to be at the center of everyone’s gaze. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I didn’t want to go out. I felt more and more ashamed with every comment that people made about my appearance.
Around this same time, the body positivity movement started to take flight, telling people en masse that we should love our bodies and that ALL of our bodies were beautiful. It was difficult to jump on board with that movement. How could I love my body? My brain was broken and that was affecting my body through physical symptoms. How could the movement ask me to love my body when it felt like it reflected my own failures?
Looking back on old photos of myself, I was nothing like the healthy, vibrant woman that I’ve now become through a mix of therapy and medication. Even still, I don’t like comments about the way I look. Do I love my body? I do, but not exactly in the way that the body positive movement would want. Body positivity is directly correlated to the idea of beauty, to which I say, “Fuck that!” That beauty standard is still tied heavily into what society deems as “acceptable,” barring nonwhite, trans, disabled and fat individuals from a supposedly inclusive movement.
“Beauty” is not, and should never be, the litmus test for existing.
Body neutrality doesn’t focus on beauty. I feel good because I’m happy to have a body. All things considered, I’m happy to be alive. I consider it a victory to be healthy, and I see my body as a direct reflection of how far I’ve come out of my depressive episodes. Thinking of what my body allows me to do makes me more happy than thinking about how beautiful my body appears to society at large. Body neutrality takes the edge off of capturing the perfect selfie, or keeping up with the latest trends for the sake of meeting the beauty standard. Who gives a solid fuck what the outside world thinks?
Do I love my body? I do, but not exactly in the way that the body positive movement would want.
Now, look, if body positivity is something that successfully pulled you from the dark pit of body negativity, I’m not going to shade you for it. All I’m saying is that, for those of us who have a difficult relationship with our bodies for one reason or another, or have been barred from the movement altogether, body neutrality may be a better option.
You’re allowed to have days where you don’t feel like the baddest bitch. You’re allowed to have days where you feel horrible about yourself. Instead of beating yourself up for it, just acknowledge it. We’re all human. We’re not expected to be perfect.
Body neutrality says that showing up—whether it be for the job of your dreams, the protest, or a partner—is the most radical thing you can do. At a time where we’re working with social political movements to counter our current oppressive administration, it’s more important than ever to make a radical stand to show up exactly as we are.
After all, beauty is not the test for our capabilities to make waves.
We all have a body. It can do wonderful things and harbor wonderful, creative ways to impact the world around us. As long as we stay tied to an oppressive construct of someone else’s making, we can never truly find freedom. Through body neutrality, we take back what has been given to us since birth. This gives us the ability to say the most powerful statement the oppressed can make: “I’m here.”
About the Author
Kira Sparkles is as sunny as her home state of Florida. She is currently taking that sunshine with her as she travels and writes. She can be found blogging on her website, mskirasparkles.com, as soon as she finishes petting all the neighborhood and bodega cats.