November 9, 2023 | OPINION | By Charlotte Maley
I think that most people are displeased with their bodies. Some people decide not to let it consume them, only getting a hit of momentary displeasure when they catch an accidental glance of themselves in some bathroom mirror. Other people experience this and they become gym addicts or develop eating disorders, and the idea of their body is a constant hum in the back of their mind.
It’s not as though the concept of their bodies take up any percentage of thoughts as much as it constantly exists within the background of their consciousness, like a lazy prop that is always on the stage of an elementary school play. This toxic mindset regarding the body, of course, is a massive hindrance to one’s wellbeing, and it is from here that we saw the emergence of a ‘body positivity movement’ dating back to the late 1960s, which has encouraged people to love their bodies regardless of the forms they take.
This campaign, if not beautiful, is relatively harmless. The body neutrality movement, on the other hand, is not only psychiatrically dangerous, but I believe it is the product of an unhealthy trend towards nihilism amongst younger generations.
The body neutrality campaign was founded around 2016, when a body image coach named Anne Poirier decided the body positivity movement was getting it all wrong. Her argument was that, although body positivity is a nice thought, it still encourages a mindset which places too much emphasis upon the body’s importance. She advocated for people to instead approach the body as an entirely neutral entity, whose appearance or abilities have no effect on a person’s worth or value.
This proposal instantly took off and, even today, celebrities like Taylor Swift actively perpetuate this ideology. Incredibly, in many online spaces, the concept of body positivity is even described as a politically incorrect cousin of the body neutrality movement. Not only do I argue that this entire proposition is completely ludicrous, but also that the concept of “body neutrality” is the most telling symptom of general psychological unwellness.
In order to make my case, it is essential to understand where current attitudes in favor of nihilism fit in. Nihilism, in short, is a system of thought that preaches life as meaningless. It is an ideology that, according to some dedicated journalists of Thred., The Free Press and the Inquirer, is a hit amongst today’s younger generations.
According to them, this trend is due to difficulties of many young Americans to imagine a life where they will be better off than generations before them, or even the ever-present distressing promise of world-ending climate change. Younger generations, therefore, are far more likely to take a “F*ck it, we ball” approach to issues rather than intentionally go about solving them. From this lens, we can understand how the body neutrality movement rose to prominence.
If life is meaningless, then certainly one’s body is as well. You can stop shaving your legs, or stuff your body to the rim with preservative-filled candies, and none of it will matter in the slightest. Although there is certainly an argument to be made that the body neutrality movement is ethical in its anti-capitalist sentiments, it is undeniable that a concept of the body being neutral could only be born from a problematic system of thought that separates the mind and body into two entirely different entities: Descartes’ mind-body dualism.
In the seventeenth century, this revolutionary system of thought resulted in a complete division between nature and the realm of reason in the Western world, causing people to view the material world as devoid of true meaning, and the mental apparatus as divine. In other words, where the natural world was seen as barbaric and malleable, the mind was the center by which humans were closest to God, and so the body became no more than a tool of the more important conscious realm. This is how the Western world violently stripped individuals of a relationship to their bodies. It is from this place that the body became neutral.
In the last decade, multiple prominent articles have been released in publications such as the “National Library of Medicine” and the “Cambridge University Pressand Assessment” claiming that the philosophy of mind-body dualism is directly responsible for today’s faltering mental health. Although the central argument of these pieces is that the modern psychopharmacology dogma is problematic, the underlying presupposition seems to be that the separation of mind and body has led people to live devoid of intentionality, rendering their individual lives purposeless.
The distancing from one’s body and the negation of its importance, in other words, seems to be a key cause of the psychological distress seen in today’s younger generations.
I’m sure there are people who would argue the body neutrality movement is not advocating, as I claim, for people to treat their bodies like secondary pieces of garbage and is instead encouraging people to simply accept themselves as they come. How I respond to this is that any movement that prescribes disinterest to any facet of the physical realm contributes to unwellness, for it encourages decohesion between a person and their situatedness within a meaningful world.
The body neutrality movement is one that pushes slogans that describe the body as a “meat suit.” In this way, the movement is a certain terrorism against a person, robbing them of a full human experience which would otherwise place their physical form as an essential player. In this sense, I would prefer body negativity to body neutrality, for at least these people may live life intentionally, and free of unhealthy nihilist inclinations.
Before we can accept our bodies for what they are, we must first and foremost believe that they mean something as a beautiful and necessary contribution to our lives on Earth.