While the concept of body positivity has risen in popularity over the last few years, it can be a hard notion for athletes to embrace. With so much focus on performance and improving their game, athletes can struggle to reconcile body positivity with a desire to improve performance. While the two concepts aren't mutually exclusive, they can be hard to balance.
If this struggle sounds familiar, embracing body neutrality rather than positivity may be an easier, healthier target for you. TrueSport Expert and licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Melissa Streno, has seen the rise of the more realistic body neutrality model in recent years and believes that this new approach to body image may be a great focus for athletes who struggle with body positivity.
What is body positivity?
Body positivity sounds like a great concept: In short, it's the idea of accepting and celebrating one's body regardless of any physical characteristics. But for athletes, this can be a difficult proposition since improving one's athletic skill requires an awareness of improvements and progress. Body positivity can also be difficult for any person, Streno says, simply because feeling positive at all times is an impossible task. The social comparisons young people face are also impossible to avoid.
"Body positivity can actually be negative for some athletes because when they try to maintain body positivity but find fault with themselves, they feel like they've failed," says Streno. "But no human feels 100 percent great all of the time."
Because of this, body neutrality—where you don't have any judgments about your physical body—may be an easier target.
What is body neutrality?
"Body neutrality lets you move away from how your body looks, and instead, lets you focus on what your body can do," says Streno. "The goal is to move away from the physical appearance and connect with how your body aligns with your values, like the ability to move freely or do a certain activity. Focus on what your body allows you to do rather than what it looks like."
Developing a more body-neutral approach can be especially helpful in the context of social comparison, whether with teammates or on social media, says Streno. "For example, if you're able to develop a feeling of body neutrality, you're less likely to look around and compare how everyone on the team looks in their uniforms," she adds.