They were new shorts. They were blue, and tight. I’d always wanted a pair like these. I loved them, but it only took three words for me to shove them back into the darkest part of my closet.
A car horn sounded, I looked up — “nice legs, baby” — and the truck was already gone, leaving nothing behind but the woosh of the wind against my face. Those three words spent an instant in his mouth and years in my mind. Nice legs, baby. It almost sounded like a compliment. Almost. Why did he say it? He saw me walking down the street on my way to school and made the decision to roll down his window, lean out and shout those words at me. Nice legs, baby.
It took a lot of courage to wear those shorts, because I didn’t think my legs were nice. I spent every day thinking about how my thighs jiggled as I walked, how they touched at the top. Every time I sat at my desk in school, I thought about how they spread out all over the seat like big floppy sacks of flour. Or goo. I didn’t think my legs were nice, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t wish them away. I was 14.
As I got a bit older, I learned that having big thighs and a big butt was cool. I learned to appreciate the curves I was developing, but I still couldn’t find peace from the constant thoughts running through my mind. I was learning body positivity, but it was like putting a Band-Aid on a wound that needed stitches. Some days it worked, and other days, it really didn’t.
The contemporary body positivity movement can be traced back to around 1960, and since then has grown into a massive ideology that can be found all over the media today. Body positivity is essentially the belief that everyone should feel that their bodies are beautiful. The movement began by centering on reclaiming words like “fat” and “plus-size,” turning them into descriptors rather than insults or words to be ashamed of. Someone can be beautiful and also be fat — they are by no means mutually exclusive. This is how the movement began, and since then, it has expanded to include queer bodies, bodies of color and disabled bodies. Bottom line: Everyone is beautiful.
This is a movement that I wholeheartedly embrace, and I’ve seen it help so many people grow to love themselves more fully and truly. That just wasn’t the case for me.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I noticed a change in myself: I slowly stopped caring about what my body looked like. In fact, I forgot to worry about my body at all. Maybe that was the secret: Just don’t think about it.
Recently, I came across the phrase “body neutrality.” Body neutrality is the practice of not thinking about your body or how it looks at all. I am an active person, so for me, that means thinking about what my body can do, rather than how it looks. I found that the less I overanalyze how my body looks — even if I’m focusing on the positives — the happier I am. My body can swim and dance and hike. It can eat a ridiculous amount of ice cream without feeling sick (it can’t really handle doughnuts though … we’re working on that) and take me from Campbell Hall to I.V. Theater in less than 10 minutes. I can love and appreciate my body so much more when I stop looking in the mirror.
While I choose body neutrality over body positivity, I don’t want to suggest that this is what works for everyone. Body positivity was designed for people who were, and still are, attacked, marginalized and discriminated against because of their size, shape or color. Body positivity could be the best practice for those people, and that is incredible. For me, sometimes it’s just easier not to think about it. And that’s not to say that body neutrality is running away from the problem but rather finding a different solution.
When I got to college, I began practicing body neutrality by accident and, luckily for me, it worked. I found myself surrounded by people who just didn’t talk about their bodies in the way I was used to. Our lives were about picking a major and studying for midterms. They were about exploring a new campus and a new city. Sorry, no time to worry about whether or not my thighs are touching — I have class in 10 minutes and an essay due at midnight. Body positivity might not be for everyone, so why not give body neutrality a try?
Anabel Costa recommends getting rid of all the mirrors in your house.