“Never apologize for the space you take.”

When I was 16-years-old, I competed in a teen beauty pageant. From crowns to evening gowns, I did it all—including the swimsuit competition.

As a mid-size girl, I didn’t exactly fit in among the rest of the contestants. My thighs jiggled, belly protruded, and stretchmarks displayed for an entire auditorium to see.

But when I walked across that stage, none of that mattered. At that moment, I celebrated, honoured, and was thankful for my body. I was proud to represent a marginalized body type in the pageant industry.

That was until I went home.

As the pictures flashed across my computer screen, I began to tear myself apart. Seeing my body next to these thinner ones, the confidence I had on stage quickly dissipated. I untagged myself from every image, altered the ones I could, and attempted to erase this girl from my memory.

But that girl existed; that girl was brave and unique and needed. That girl and that body were—and are—allowed to take up space.

What is ‘body neutrality?’

Today, I’m 21-years-old and still learning to accept my ever-changing body. Body positivity is a lifelong journey that can sometimes be overwhelming.

That’s where body neutrality fits in.

The term coined by bloggers Gabi Greg and Stephanie Yeboah emerged to address a few margins within the body positive movement, such as:

  • Body positivity has become dominated by conventionally attractive, white, or non-disabled individuals, forcing people of colour, people with larger bodies, trans bodies, and people with disabilities to become marginalized.
  • In the body positive movement, physical attractiveness still plays an important role in one’s self-worth.
  • People oftentimes struggled to transition from body hatred to body love.

Body neutrality acknowledges what your body does rather than how it looks. It’s about viewing your body as a whole being—a vessel—that allows you to run, dance, heal, and adapt.

So, before canceling on your bubble’s COVID-safe pool party this summer, consider practicing these tips to achieve body neutrality:

Ditch body talk altogether

When getting ready, we’re quick to berate ourselves for not fitting into those jeans we bought five years ago. Rather than adding negative commentary, opt for a pair that makes you feel comfortable.

Clothes are made to fit you; you’re not made to fit clothes.

Listen to your body

If you need a rest day, take it. Feeling restless? Move in a way that motivates you; exercise isn’t a punishment. Craving something sweet? Eat the dang ice cream.

By listening and honouring what your body needs, you’re freeing yourself from the judgment and expectations society has attempted to put on your body. Stop listening to diets and influencers; instead, trust yourself.

Give yourself time

Self-love is not an antidote to the years of systemic body oppression. If you’re someone who is standing on the sidelines of society’s beauty standards, give yourself time and compassion.

You’re undoing years’ worth of trauma, which is brave and inspiring, but it’s also exhausting. Take things as slowly as you need to.

No matter what your body looks like this summer, remember it carried you through a pandemic. Give your body grace and compassion. Let it laugh, feel the sun, and swim. Your body is a bikini body.

We can be our own worst critics. Learn more about silencing your inner-bully!

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