Forget about body positivity, body neutrality is the movement we need

Tired of being told to just love your body? The body positivity movement is making way for body neutrality which takes a more nuanced approach to the ways we view our bodies.

If you’ve ever struggled with the concept of body positivity – you’re not alone. “The body-positive movement can be very confusing with often contradictory messages about beauty and health,” admits psychologist and director of Body Matters Australasia, Sarah McMahon. Simply turning negative thoughts of your body into positive ones often oversimplifies an incredibly complex problem. “To begin with, the focus of body positivity movement so often emphasises a goal of feeling beautiful when we should be broadening the discussion away from that,” says McMahon.

For many, the idea of waking up one day and deciding to love all of our perceived imperfections is incredibly challenging. Despite the fashion and beauty worlds very slowing crawling towards a more inclusive and diverse concept of beauty, we’re constantly being fed and consume a very narrow idea of what beauty is. There once existed a time where we could at least turn off the television or put down fashion magazines to try and escape unrealistic beauty standards. Today, thanks to the Internet and social media, these often unattainable beauty ideals bombard us 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The rise of the Instagram celebrity has even contributed to the creation of a new set of beauty norms – the sparkly white teeth, the Kim Kardashian-esque derriere, the cinched waist, and the long glossy tresses. “Body politics is just that – a projection of socio-political ideals on to how we look,” explains McMahon. She says that tracking the “ideal” female body shape through history provides a fascinating link to the “roles” that have been idealised for women at different points in history.

McMahon points to the “flapper” movement of the 1920s.”The “ideal” for a woman was more masculine and how this corresponded with men being absent due to war,” she says. Fast forward to the 1950s when men had just returned home from war and women were expected to look more voluptuous. “The “ideal” role for women at this time was to bear children and be a homemaker.”

Today’s current beauty ideal – thin yet curvy in all the right places, preferably with abs too – is a complete oxymoron and is physically impossible for women to achieve says McMahon. She believes it reflects a wider societal expectation that women can and must have it all. “It seems quite congruent with the expectations we have on women generally – achieving the impossible tasks of homemaking, child-rearing and professional success whilst simultaneously looking amazing!”

Although it’s arguably a hard leap from body dissatisfaction, to body positivity, the new wave of body acceptance – body neutrality – is okay with us landing smack bang in the middle. Instead of the focus being on either loving or despising our bodies, body neutrality shifts the lens away from appearance. The premise is that we should respect our bodies but we shouldn’t let what they look like or what we perceive them to look like define who we are.

Body neutrality activist, Jamela Jamil is using her own experiences with body struggles and her platform to help women tear down the unrealistic beauty standards we are held to. She has lambasted various celebrities for hawking weight loss products to their often young and impressionable followers via sponsored posts. In fact, she played an instrumental role in the changes Instagram and Facebook made on the way diet-related content can be promoted on the platforms. In September 2019, the social media giants imposed age restrictions on diet and cosmetic surgery-related meaning no one under 18 years of age could view content promoting the aforementioned. In November Instagram made the decision to ban filters that promote cosmetic surgery.

The thought of declaring your body weight on an Instagram post for the entire world to see is probably enough to turn most of us into a sweaty nervous wreck. But wouldn’t it be nice to imagine a future for our daughters and sons, where we are not initially judged on how we appear to strangers and nor do we get caught up in what strangers might think of our body? In 2018 Jamil launched an Instagram account called I Weigh to give all genders an inclusive platform to post selfies and write about the things that they value about themselves that are more than skin deep. Perhaps a future where we’re not held to unattainable beauty standards could be on the horizon.

How to be at peace with your body

  • Be unique says McMahon. “Rather than presenting idealised versions of ourselves and shaping how we want people to see us, dare to be different, dare to be authentic, dare to be real,” she says.
  • Listen to our bodies. “Connecting back with our bodies, honouring how they feel and being self-compassionate are all helpful starting place to learn to be content and happy with our bodies,” says McMahon.
  • Set limits around any social media. “Notice when you do not feel good after engaging in social media usage. Get used to deconstructing the messages you see,” says McMahon. If social media is getting you down, it might be time to do a cull of who you follow. Following other users that make you feel good about yourself should be the golden rule.

Common Skincare Myths Busted

Thanks to the internet and social media everyone’s a beauty expert. And while there’s certainly plenty of helpful information out there when it comes to deciphering fact from fiction, there is also an abundance of skincare myths that need to be busted. We’ve busted four common skincare myths below so you can get the glowing, healthy skin you want.

Skincare Myth: You Should Buy Skincare Based on Your Age

Fact: According to experts, the saying “age is just a number” should most definitely apply to skincare. Selecting products based on your age might seem like a simple way to decipher the abundance of skincare options available but it won’t necessarily ensure that the skincare is right for your skin type.

“Our ‘skin’ age is no longer our ‘chronological’ age,” she explains Tracy May-Harriott, global educator for Elizabeth Arden Professional and PrioriMay-Harriott. If you’ve ever been plagued with pesky acne even though your teenage years are well and truly behind you, then you’ll understand what May-Harriott means. Every individual’s skin type and concerns are unique which mean mature skin can be oily and breakout-prone, while someone in their 20s can have more signs of ageing on their skin that someone in their 40s.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of skincare to cater to individual concerns and May-Harriott says rather than focus on skincare that’s marketed for a certain age group, look for skincare that targets your concerns. “Always start slow, go slow with a new skincare routine and don’t do too much too soon to find products suitable for you,” May-Harriott adds that prevention is always better than treating problems as they arise. “You need to take into consideration that regardless of age the sooner you start to protect and prevent problems, the better,” she says. “Often, we wait until we see problems before we take more care of it. Have a good basic, protective skincare routine from an early age and you will age more gracefully for your years.

Skincare Myth: Exfoliation is the Answer for Blemish-Prone Skin

Fact: Exfoliating away excess oil sounds like it would make sense, right? According to May-Harriott the commonly accepted beauty myth couldn’t be further from the truth. “We’ve always said that exfoliation is the heart of a good skincare regimen,” says May-Harriott. “But so often those who need to exfoliate the most are the ones who do it the least,” she says.

According to May-Harriott one of the biggest beauty myths we’ve fallen for is that exfoliating more frequently will combat oily skin. In fact, the opposite is true. Before even heading to the beauty counter in search of the ideal exfoliator, May-Harriott says assessing your skin’s oil level is crucial.

“If you’ve got really oily skin the last thing you want to be doing is scrubbing every second day; you’re just going to increase oil production,” May-Harriott says explaining that good exfoliator won’t only remove dead skin, it will also activate sebaceous glands bringing more oil to the epidermis, creating a more hydrated complexion.“Think about that same action for someone who has really dry skin though. If you’ve got dry skin you need to be doing two or three mechanical scrubs a week to get moisture into the skin,” she explains.

Skincare Myth: Dehydrated and Dry Skin are the Same Thing

Fact: Dry and dehydrated might be two terms that are often thrown in together when it comes to describing skin, but Sothys National Technical Trainer and skincare expert, Vanessa Feehan-Meldrum, explains that they’re two very different skin types and therefore need different approaches where skincare is concerned.

“In very simple terms, dry skin is lacking lipids – oils whereas dehydrated skin is lacking water,” says Feehan-Meldrum. “Dry skin has certain characteristics – small pores, no visible oil flow on the skin, skin can feel rough and uneven. These skins may feel they need more moisturiser added after their first application,” she explains. Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is generally more of a temporary affliction. “Dehydrated skin has a crepe-like look to it – when you smile you may see fine lines around your eyes that look like crepe paper – this type of skin often feels tight,” she says. 

Skincare Myth: My Diet Won’t Impact on my Skin as Long as I’m Using Great Skincare

Fact: While religiously using the right skincare routine can go along way towards ensuring great skin health, there’s much more at play when it comes to getting the radiant healthy. While the old wives’  tale that eating chocolate will cause your skin to break out, there’s more research being invested in nutrition and the role that diet plays in skin health. 

Carla Oates, the founder of The Beauty Chef, believes that everything that we eat – or don’t eat – affects the health and beauty of our skin. “This means no matter what your skin type or condition, it can be improved by diet,” she says. “Conversely, no matter how good your skin is naturally, problems can arise from a poor diet.” 

Katy Bacon, education manager for Murad Australasia Pacific, says she is frequently asked about the role that diet plays in skin health. ” We are ultimately what we eat,” she adds. “You have an estimated 19 million skin cells on every square inch of your body. You need to be asking if you’re feeding them right to look your best.” Bacon says that the connection between diet and skin health and ageing is becoming increasingly clear through scientific research. “That big weekend or those poor diet choices trigger hormonal fluctuations and inflammation in the body, both of which encourage acne.”