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Breaking Free: Embracing Body Neutrality After Decades of Diet Culture

Updated: Apr 15


Growing up as a teenager in the 90s, I was deeply influenced by the era’s extreme diet culture and the pervasive "heroin chic" aesthetic. This was a time when the media glorified exceptionally thin figures, which not only permeated pop culture but also became a standard my mother enforced at home. Frequently on diets herself, she would comment on my body and scrutinize my eating habits, pushing me to ignore my hunger cues. Caught in the whirlwind of ever-changing fad diets, I eventually developed body dysmorphia and anorexia. This profoundly affected my relationship with my body and food, setting the stage for a lifelong journey toward self-acceptance and healing.

In her book 90s Bitch, Allison Yarrow describes the 90s as a decade where women were often portrayed in media in limiting and derogatory ways, contributing to a culture that policed women’s bodies and reinforced narrow beauty standards.

My struggle with body image spanned from my teenage years through my twenties. In my thirties, during pregnancy, societal norms seemed to briefly accept my being "fat," as long as I returned to my pre-pregnancy weight quickly, which I obsessively did after each child. However, the most significant change occurred after a severe accident at age 40, leading to multiple surgeries and extended periods of bed rest. This led to a substantial weight gain, which remains with me today. But now, I'm at peace with it. I've stopped dieting and instead focus on nourishing and moving my body in ways that bring joy rather than stress. It's no longer the 90s, and I've moved beyond the need to conform to societal expectations or obsess over my weight. Having battled anorexia, I am determined never to revisit that darkness. Instead of striving for body acceptance, which celebrates the body as it is, I aim for body neutrality. This approach emphasizes appreciating what my body can do, rather than how it looks, helping me value myself beyond my physical appearance.

Do I love my body? It's a work in progress. Some days, I feel genuine love and appreciation for myself. Other days, acceptance is more challenging. Nonetheless, my journey toward self-love continues, filled with highs and lows but always advancing towards a deeper understanding and acceptance of who I am.

If you're on a similar path toward body acceptance or neutrality, I want to share some practical, actionable steps that have helped me. These aren't just slogans or theories; they are real, tangible actions you can start today to nurture love for the body you inhabit.

1. Discard your scale. Remember, it's just a number that reflects gravity's pull on your body, not your worth. Removing the scale can eliminate a significant source of anxiety.

2. Change the narrative. Positive self-talk is essential. Counteract harsh self-criticism by replacing negative thoughts with affirmations when you look in the mirror. It might feel awkward initially, but persisting can help you believe in the more positive, kind voice over time.

3. End body shaming. Stop body-shaming talk immediately, whether directed at yourself or others. Instead, steer conversations towards passions, dreams, and interests. This shift can transform your social interactions from body criticism to positive, meaningful exchanges.

4. Stop consuming mainstream beauty media. Avoid magazines and social media content that promote unrealistic beauty standards. These can erode your self-esteem under the guise of self-improvement. Opt instead for content that uplifts and celebrates diversity in beauty.

5. Wear what fits and feels good. Overhaul your wardrobe by choosing clothes that make you feel fantastic, regardless of their size. If an item doesn't make you feel good, it doesn’t deserve a spot in your closet.

6. Blame the object, not yourself. If a photo isn’t flattering, attribute it to the lighting or angle, not your appearance. Similarly, if a chair feels too small, it’s the chair that's inadequate, not you. Adjust your environment to fit you, rather than the other way around.

7. Do what you love. Free yourself from societal pressures about what you "should" do or how you "should" look. Embrace activities that bring you joy, whether it’s a leisurely walk, a tasty meal, or quality time with loved ones.

These steps aren't just activities; they're commitments to yourself and your happiness. Each step is a choice to live fully, authentically, and joyously in the body you have. You deserve to take up space and feel wonderful in it. Embrace the journey of self-love—it's one of the most rewarding journeys you'll ever undertake.

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