Body neutrality: Lizzo is encouraging this stance - here's what it means and how to get there

Working out may come with weight loss, but Lizzo said she isn't trying to "escape fatness." Instead, the singer is focusing on how she feels. Photo credit: Getty Images

By Madeline Holcombe of CNN

When it comes to talking about bodies, sometimes less is more.

Lizzo, who is known for messages of self-love and wider acceptance, has recently said as much as she shared that she is encouraging a stance of body neutrality for herself and others.

"I don't need your positivity or your negativity. I don't need your comments at all. How about that? Just keep it pushing," Lizzo told The Cut in April.

In a recently posted TikTok, Lizzo also spoke about how she exercises not for the goal of losing weight, but for her mental health - noting she embraces that her body is going to change over the course of her life.

"Everyone's bodies change," she said. "That's life, that's what human existence is."

It would be wonderful if everyone could feel good in their body unconditionally, but with so many physical changes happening over a lifetime - and a society that often preaches striving toward one shape it deems acceptable - that isn't always realistic, said Bri Campos, a body image coach in Paramus, New Jersey.

"You will be in a relationship with your body for as long as you have a body," she said. That means sometimes it may be easy to feel great in your skin, and other times it may be harder.

What would it mean to be neutral in your approach to your body? And how can you cut the criticism to get there?

What is body neutrality?

If body positivity is celebrating your body, body neutrality is not thinking about it much at all.

"We know that there's just a lot more to a person and their value and worth than bodies," said Lauren Smolar, vice president of programs for the National Eating Disorders Association. "Body neutrality really takes that focus away altogether… and advocates for really focusing on other things."

While that may seem like a bit of a letdown compared with the concept of positivity, body neutrality is beneficial because the aim is not to tie self-worth to what a body looks like or even what it can do.

"Body neutrality is really letting go of the idea that we have to love the appearance of our body in order to live a joyful and meaningful life," said Jennifer Rollin, founder of The Eating Disorder Center in Rockville, Maryland.

Body neutrality: It's not just about size

People's bodies often change throughout life, and a neutral approach can help weather those variations, Campos said.

Celebrating what your body can do may be helpful, but ability levels don't always stay the same. And for people with chronic pain or disabilities, it can be important to find a stance that accepts and embraces a body even when it can't function in the ways it did at one time - or the way others do, Rollin said.

Whitney Trotter, a registered dietitian and nurse based in Memphis, Tennessee, said she worked on body neutrality in 2021 when she had to terminate her pregnancy for medical reasons.

"This concept of body neutrality really hit home," she said. "When we feel like our body fails us how do we still embrace it and show up for it?"

Body positivity, or loving and accepting your body - as it is, wherever it is - can be wonderful for every body type, Rollin said. It just might not be a place you can get to all the time.

"I would never tell someone that's not a good goal," she said. "At the end of the day, it's great to look in a mirror and say, 'I look great.'"

"But when we've tied self-worth to our external appearance and to this idea of loving our bodies, what happens if we get sick and we have to have surgery, or if we get pregnant and give birth and then are postpartum or just simply the ageing process?" Rollin said.

How to get body neutral

The first step toward a more neutral, less critical relationship with your body may be observation.

"For me and for many of my clients, we can't get to neutrality until we acknowledge the narrative of hatred that currently exists," Campos said.

That means identifying what actions or parts of your body cause you stress and asking yourself more about where that comes from, she said.

How do we deal with those negative voices in our heads? Try non-engagement responses, which are "noticing the thoughts… and then continuing acting according to your values," Rollin said.

You may have a beach day planned with friends and family this summer, but then start to worry about putting on a bathing suit. Instead of fixating on those worries, Rollins encourages noting it's a thought that will pass and focus instead on having fun with those you love.

Notice also when the body judgments are coming from those around you - in which case you may need to change the subject or set some boundaries with those people, Rollin said.

It would be great if there were one clear-cut answer on how you can develop a more neutral stance on your body, but the steps to take will be different for each person, Campos said.

Rollin recommends wearing clothes that fit comfortably as a first step.

"If I were to wear pants all day that were way too small on me, I'd be thinking about my body a lot more because I'd feel uncomfortable," she said. "And so that only serves to intensify negative body image."

Trying practices that make you feel more connected with your body, like acupuncture, yoga or deep breathing, may also be helpful, Trotter said.

Don't be discouraged if it takes a while to find a more neutral approach to your body, Rollin added.

"Many of us have been steeped in diet culture and anti-fat our whole lives," she said. "This is going to be a practice that takes time, but people can get to this place where they're far more peaceful with their bodies."

If you're really struggling, consider getting help from a professional who specialises in eating disorders or other body acceptance, "and figure out how to take the focus away from your body and focus on other things that bring value to you and to your world," Smolar said.

Body neutrality roadblocks and strategies

Campos likes to think of the ongoing relationship people have with their bodies as an archeological dig. It requires going through the layers of how you perceive yourself and uncovering what has been underneath all along.

But sometimes you won't have the tools to deal with everything you come across, she said. And in those cases, you can leave the stone unturned.

For her, one stone to let lie may be the scale.

As much work as she has done professionally and personally, stepping on a scale can still trigger those shaming thoughts, Campos said. While she could spend the time parsing through what it is that is so difficult about assigning that number to her body, it may not be worth the stress the process would cause her, she said.

Instead, she just avoids the scale.

"I could try and figure out how to become neutral with a number, but there are just so many other things that I'd like to explore that it just doesn't feel like a stone that feels necessary to overturn," Campos said.