How Being Body Neutral Helped Me When I Needed it Most
Brynta Ponnuthurai is a writer and creator whose journey with self-love radiates throughout everything she does (even TikTok)! You can catch Brynta at the first ever Bod Con, happening Sunday, February 21. She'll be joining Kristina Zias and Raeann Langas of the Confident Collective Podcast to chat about Friendship and Body Confidence. Check out the rest of this exciting line up, and get your tickets here. Can't wait to see you!
I go back to that day a lot. The day when a piece of clothing made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of loving myself. I remember the hysterical crying and tossing of clothing around my teenage bedroom. I was 16 and a pair of white jeans, that were all the rage at the time, had rendered me inconsolable. I refused to leave my bedroom, let alone my house. Then, my eyes welling with tears, I remember looking up at my mother, who was unfamiliar with this territory of parenting and helpless to her own daughter’s tormented mind as I asked the question that young girls all over the world struggling with their body image have been asking for years:
Why won't it fit?
Looking back now I’m glad I couldn’t wear those white pants that day (not for any other reason than the fact that they were white pants— enough said). In truth those four little words continued to haunt me throughout my life. They were with me when I was gifted clothing that wasn’t the right size. They were with me when I tried on my now fiancé’s sweatpants for the first time when we first started dating and they wouldn’t go over my hips. Ironically though, they were not with me when I went to buy another white outfit that would have a meaningful impact on my life— my wedding dress.
Up until that day I struggled to understand that my body was worthy of respect, I struggled to see its value and had little energy in me to claim any sort of positivity towards it. But this was the day that changed everything. The day that took me from “I need to be body positive” to “I exist and that’s enough. I am enough”. This is where my need to fit into the body positive community gave in to the dawn of a new era of my relationship with my body, a more neutral one.
So what exactly is the difference between body positivity and body neutrality?
While both body positivity and body neutrality encompass a shift in our relationship with our bodies, body positivity is, well, simply more positive. It advocates for the acceptance of marginalized bodies within society regardless of physical ability, size, gender or race. It is the belief that everyone deserves to feel good about their bodies and challenges society to accept everyone while attempting to quiet the long-standing tradition of promoting unhealthy and unrealistic body standards.
Brynta in the LuxeLift Pullover Bra and Dream Short
However, while body positivity may emphasize the fact that all people are deserving of having a positive body image, and although it may seem like a powerful tool in the social movement towards the recognition and respect of all bodies— to some, it may seem impractical. It certainly was for me. Going from a lifelong disdain of my body to a suddenly positive view of it seemed despairingly out of reach. At times it only furthered the hate and frustration I’d use to target my body as undesirable. For the most part, I tried to fake the positive, glowy affirmations until I truly believed what I was saying, but that momentum was hard to keep on days when I just did not possess the vigour to tell myself what I wanted to believe.
I needed a space to observe my body without judgement but also without a forced positivity. After all, every day with our bodies is different— especially for those of us recovering from eating disorders or battles with our mental health.
The concept of body neutrality gave me the opportunity to allow my feelings about my body to sit idle as I continued to pursue a new relationship with my body. A new relationship that was grounded in respect and gratitude, and one that gave me permission to not think about how my body looked at all some days.
"Being body neutral gave me the opportunity to pursue a new relationship with my body grounded in respect and gratitude"
At its core, body neutrality is the idea that you can exist without feeling either way about your body. For me, this discovery was particularly helpful during a time when I was ready to move on from hating my body every single day. It is a middle ground, a neutral environment— the Switzerland of the marginalized body community if you will; and on the day I decided to finally push my feelings about my body aside, it was my saviour that allowed me to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience.
It’s true I didn’t walk into the bridal boutique that day absolutely loathing my body, but I wasn’t completely in love with it either. For months I had pushed the deadline of wedding dress shopping back as far as I could. “I’m just not the right size yet” I’d tell people. But the week of the appointment I firmly decided that there is no right size, that the term is subjective and that I could choose to simply exist and experience normal things, like wedding dress shopping, without the pressure of loving my body.
On that day, I remembered that I was a human. I tried not to obsess over whether something would fit or if my stomach bulged out. I cared more about the type of lace on the dress than whether or not my arms were showing; and, for the first time in my life— I left my judgments about my body at home. I refused to give in to any thoughts I had about my body, regardless if they were bad or good.
The result was a day where I truly felt free to take up space without the need to fixate on what I would’ve liked to change about my physical appearance. And in the end I was able to bring those feelings of neutrality home with me, where I could eventually transition them into a relationship centred around a deep respect and a growing positive outlook of my body.
So where do I stand now? Not every day is perfect and that’s okay. Within all that I’ve learned, I no longer believe that there are “perfect” relationships with our bodies. We are human after all. What I do know, is that the greatest thing I ever did to move past the hatred I had for my body wasn’t trying to be positive all the time. Instead, all I had to do was separate my worth from other people’s opinions, and realize that how I feel about myself can have nothing to do with my appearance.
At the end of the day, I know I’ve come a long way from the 16-year-old who broke down at the slightest indication of her body’s inability to conform to idealistic beauty standards. I’ve also come a long way in terms of how I define my relationship with my body. I used to think that body positivity meant loving your body, every day, every way, for ever and ever. Turns out the movement really just places an emphasis on the fact that everyone deserves the opportunity to feel good about what they look like regardless of what the world deems beautiful, and to me that is something worth being a part of.
Brynta is in the WingWoman Bra and High Rise Leakproof Underwear in the shade Nude 4
All of our journeys with our bodies will be different, but at the end of the day we all deserve to enjoy our experience in these bodies we’ve been given, without judgement or apprehension about whether or not we are good enough to do so.
These days, I no longer believe it’s my job to ask why society has created a world where I, and others with marginalized bodies, don’t fit into their ideals of beauty. Rather I’ve decided to create a space for us all to thrive as we are and feel beautiful regardless of whether or not the world has carved out a place for us.