What Happened When I Stopped Trying to Love My Body

POPSUGAR Photography | Renny Jiang
POPSUGAR Photography | Renny Jiang

For the last few months, I've felt completely overwhelmed and helpless as my body started changing without warning. I no longer fit into any of my jeans, and I was forced to drag myself in shame to the mall to buy bigger pairs of pants. As I looked in the mirror of the dressing room, I couldn't help but feel disappointed by my reflection. But even as I stood there examining my body and thinking about all the ways my waist and hips had changed, my partner put his hands on my stomach and said, "You know, I really love this tummy." He explained that my stomach keeps me fed and healthy, noting how great it looked in clothes that fit. "Yeah, I guess," I muttered, still thinking about the old pairs of jeans I'd need to toss out when I got home.

Later that day, I found myself thinking about that shopping experience and my partner's comments. Still uncomfortable and embarrassed about my growing body, I began searching for advice on how to make myself feel better about my appearance. The search results yielded a plethora of information about body positivity and building body confidence — but in that moment, I couldn't imagine getting back to a point where I actually took pride in the way that I looked. That's when I remembered reading about a movement called body neutrality — and decided to dig deeper.

Body neutrality demands that you simply respect your body for the things that it does, rather than trying to accept or celebrate it for the way that it looks.

Unlike body positivity, body neutrality demands that you simply respect your body for the things that it does, rather than trying to accept or celebrate it for the way that it looks. It isn't about seeing your stomach or legs as beautiful, but being grateful for the ways they provide for you. Body neutrality also encourages people to value things beyond physical attributes. Instead of focusing on what your body looks like, you might take a moment to appreciate your curiosity, intelligence, or compassion.

I loved the idea that I could neither love nor hate my body. However, I was struggling to shift away from the mindset that I needed to meet societal standards of beauty. So, I started out by making small changes to how I perceived my body. Instead of forcing myself to go to the gym to burn off calories, I went on long walks with friends — something I enjoy and am so grateful that my body helps me do. When I looked in the mirror, I tried to fend off critical thoughts about the pimple emerging on my cheeks or the razor bumps on my legs. Instead, I tried to admire my body for the ways it has allowed me to be healthy. Through this gradual process, I began to slowly appreciate my body for its strength, stability, and energy instead of constantly being at war with it.

I realized that I'm tired of fighting with my body for not achieving physical perfection. It doesn't deserve to be the subject of my anger, guilt, and disappointment. My body has given me so much throughout my life, and I'm truly grateful for the ways it has shaped and molded my experiences, relationships, personality, and lifestyle. I don't think I'll ever reach a point where I don't think about the way I look, since I've been socially conditioned to care about how others perceive my physical appearance. It's going to be a long, personal journey to deconstruct this harmful mentality. However, I'm genuinely excited to work toward appreciating and respecting my body for everything it does — and myself for everything I am.