Why does body positivity throw us a curveball? When we try to convince ourselves to invalidate our feelings with positive—but not necessarily genuine—thoughts, we set ourselves up for failure. We can't always change how we feel about ourselves, but we can work on how we think of ourselves.
"You should love your body," nags your inner critic. "All the self-help books and women's magazines say so."
"But...I don't," you answer. "I'm trying, but I'm just not feeling it. And thanks...now I have a whole new reason to feel anxious."
Mindfulness, at its core, is about being aware of what you are experiencing in the moment and observing that experience without judgement. Using mindfulness techniques, we can train our brains to objectively experience our feelings and to recognize when our thoughts are a product of our inner critic. As our mindfulness skills improve, we can learn to redirect or dismiss unproductive thoughts.
And that's what body neutrality is: The practice of removing value judgements from our experiences of our physical self. Doing this can reduce how much time we spend thinking about our bodies as representatives of ourself, to be consumed and judged.
Following are a few mindfulness techniques that may help you rewire the pathways to body neutrality.
The body scan is among the first meditations recommended by mindfulness practitioners. The purpose of the body scan exercise is to foster awareness of each part of your body. As you focus on individual areas, you focus on what each part is feeling. If intrusive thoughts arise, you simply make note of the thought, then gently set it aside, training your mind to redirect focus to simply beholding your physical sensations.
For those who are intimidated by the idea of meditation, the body scan is a straightforward introduction.
How often do we put down our fork at the end of a meal and realize we hardly remember eating? Some of us associate meals with painful thoughts, including self-shaming or guilt. When we incorporate mindfulness techniques at mealtimes, we linger over our food and aim to focus on how we physically experience flavors and textures. We also practice attunement with the signals our body tells us: Is the sensation we feel before we eat physical hunger, or something else? How do our bodies feel when our hunger is sated? If we experience emotions, we learn to acknowledge them separately from how we experience the food itself.
Applying mindfulness to our evaluation of hunger also helps us avoid stress binges.
"When you think about changing your habit of stress eating, don’t think about taking something away. Instead, think about adding to your practice," writes Shiri Macri in a post for the Center for Mindful Eating. "That is, add mindfulness and mindful eating to your stress eating and see what happens. It’s amazing what a dose of awareness can do for our 'auto-pilot' mode."
Similar to the body scan exercise, we learn skills that allow us to tune out negative thinking associated with our relationships with food, and increase our ability to be present and aware.
We've already met your inner critic earlier—the voice that tells us we're too fat or too skinny, or that we're somehow unworthy. We fall into the pattern of giving that inner critic too much credit. The inner critic is not our "good conscience" but rather an expression of our fears. Through mindfulness, we learn to acknowledge the inner critic, but evaluate the thoughts it presents from a more objective viewpoint.
In addition, we may choose to develop and nurture a more supportive inner dialogue. Some find it helpful to assign an identity to the positive "voice", such as the cheerleader, the big sister or the big brother. When our self-dialogue shrieks at us for indulging in a slice of birthday cake, we can call up the supportive part of ourselves to remind us that a single slice of birthday cake isn't going to destroy our skin tone, change our dress size or negate our efforts to achieve healthy eating habits.
Mindfulness is self-explanatory; it trains us to be aware of the thoughts and emotions we direct towards ourselves. Through this awareness, we can learn to re-route the patterns of our brain for a more realistic, healthier view of ourselves.
If you'd like guidance in achieving body neutrality, please contact me. My goal as a counselor is to empower my clients with the skills they need to confidently meet their personal challenges.
Photo via Allef Vinicius @ Unsplash