We have all heard of body positivity, but body neutrality is a newer term that is starting to become more common in the fitness industry as a philosophy that intends to encourage more people to participate in exercise. So what is body neutrality and why is it something that fitness professionals should be aware of?
Body neutrality goes a step further than body positivity by getting people to start to realise and reinforce that we are much more than our physical form or appearance. It is about accepting ourselves right now, as we are and detaching our self worth from anything to do with our bodies.
In a world that is often obsessed with body image and perfection, the idea of body neutrality has emerged as a counteract to the negative effects of body shaming and unhealthy beauty ideals. The concept of body neutrality is centred on the idea of accepting one’s body without judgement or criticism. Rather than concentrating on the outward appearance of the body, body neutrality encourages individuals to focus on the functionality of the body and its abilities, thereby creating a healthy relationship with one’s body.
It can also help people who may be struggling to accept their bodies through the lens of body positivity. Body positivity is often centred around loving the way your body looks, and for many people this attitude can seem unattainable, especially if they have had long-held negative beliefs about the way they look. Body neutrality offers an alternative approach.
The word neutral is key: you don’t have to try and love your body, just acknowledge it, and also look beyond. What are the intangible characteristics that contribute to your identity or value? What are elements of your personality, your relationships and your ability to feel and experience life? All of these contribute to who you are but don’t need to have anything to do with what you look like.
For all of the strengths of the fitness industry, it certainly has contributed to the prevalence of negative body image and unrealistic beauty standards. Social media platforms, fitness magazines, and advertisements propagate the belief that being slim, muscular, and toned is the ideal standard of beauty, which can promote unhealthy body image issues and, unfortunately, eating disorders. While many important aspects of the fitness industry, such as promoting physical activity, healthy eating habits, and disease prevention, are beneficial, other parts, such as the promotion of appearance-based ideals and the cultural stigmatisation of obesity, can be harmful (McKinley, 2018).
While the fitness industry in reality services diverse groups, it has potential to be more inclusive and reduce barriers to participation. The ideal beauty standard is not representative of those who exercise, as people vary in size, shape, ethnicity, ability, and religious background. Therefore, it is important as fitness professionals that we are mindful of potentially or unintentionally perpetuating harmful messages around body image. Advocating for body neutrality can be an effective counter to this.
Body neutrality campaigns can help combat the harmful effects of the fitness industry by encouraging individuals to create a healthy self-image, emphasising function over form. The concept of body neutrality creates a shift from focusing on physical appearance to appreciating the body’s abilities, thereby promoting overall well-being and emphasising self-care over self-loathing (Tylka & Wood-Barcalow, 2015). Think about this as we communicate with our clients. By recognizing and praising their body’s functionality, we can help combat the negative effects of the society’s unrealistic beauty and body ideals.
Globally there are now fitness centres that embrace the body neutrality movement and gear their spaces in a way that promotes participation and inclusivity. Creating such spaces or experiences can be a powerful way for people to engage your services, so let’s take a look at what body-neutral fitness environments can look like.
Classes that promote joy movement rather than a physique goal
You will see less classes around fat burning or targetting a part of the body and more about the experience or connecting with our bodies through movements. Embodied dancing done out of Radically Fit in the US is a great example of this.
A broader range of music
Music is such a huge part of the experience of fitness, and in neutral spaces there will be playlists that represent all cultures and suit all ages.
More pricing options
Economic accessibility is important for body neutral fitness experiences. You will see a range of options to suit more people and great offers/discounts for minority groups.
Openly encouraging non-normative body types
All body types will be acknowledged and welcomed, with body-neutral gyms being a safe and empowering space for people who inhabit bodies that are non-normative, such as overweight, disabled people, or those who are transgender.
Pronoun preference will be an open discussion and areas or classes for specific genders will be nowhere to be found.
Classes specifically for mindfulness or with a mindfulness focus will be common. Recognising our mental health is a huge factor in our overall health, you can expect guided meditation experiences, or coaching and cueing during all classes to encourage presence and mind-body connection.
Non-physique focussed fitness challenges
How common are 8 or 12 week challenges in the fitness industry, where the biggest physical transformations are celebrated at the conclusion? In body-neutral spaces, the benefits of challenges will be harnessed, but the measurables will be about how a person feels or the non-physique changes they have experienced.
Educating against toxic fitness and diet culture
Body-neutral spaces understand that many people have been made to feel less of themselves due to toxic fitness and diet culture. They will have seminars, workshops and support to help people escape this conditioning and step into new power.
For all people of all abilities to feel empowered, there will be a focus on mastering key movements prior to adding complexity or intensity.
As we evolve and grow as a society, we are starting to recognise that a fitness experience is not just about barbells and lycra. Body-neutral places create an environment where people’s overall health is being considered along with their personal development. They are designed to create an empowering, inclusive environment for all bodies to experience the holistic benefits of fitness, which in turn will lead to more people participating in exercise which is what we are all about!
McKinley, E. (2018). Body positivity: A systematic review of how the literature operationalizes body positivity. International Journal of Health Sciences, 12(3), 72-86.
Tylka, T. L., & Wood-Barcalow, N. L. (2015). What is and What is Not Body Positivity?: Reconceptualizing and Appreciating the Role of the Body in Higher Education Contexts. Body positive perspectives on the higher education learning environment, 5-24.
Disclaimer: Where Certificate III in Fitness, Cert III/Cert 3, or Fitness Coach is mentioned, it refers to SIS30321 Certificate III in Fitness. Where Certificate IV in Fitness, Cert IV/Cert 4, or Personal Trainer is mentioned, it refers to SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Master Trainer Program™ is mentioned, it refers to Fitness Essentials and SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Master Trainer Plus+ Program™ is mentioned, it refers to SIS30321 Certificate III in Fitness and SIS40221 Certificate IV in Fitness. Where Certificate IV in Massage or Cert IV/Cert 4 is mentioned, it refers to HLT42021 Certificate IV in Massage Therapy. Where Diploma of Remedial Massage is mentioned, it refers to HLT52021 Diploma of Remedial Massage.