Recovery: Body Neutral or Body Positive? Rethinking Cultural Body Image and Sexual Attractiveness Ideals

Background Perspective

Society and culture has an enormous influence on perceptions of ideal body shapes and beauty – for males and females.  The focus used to be more on female shapes and standards, but now even males are under more obvious pressure to conform to magazine image standards.  For persons raised in multi-cultural or non-western family systems, the ideal standards of physical health and beauty can and do come in conflict the Western ideals displayed all over the media.

I lost interest in physical attractiveness and beauty standards back in childhood.  This comes from the variety of perpetrators who influenced my body image.  Male or female; young or old; beautiful, pretty, handsome, plain, attractive, or ugly; perpetrators come from all ends of the spectrum.  And all of them in some way or other will blame the victim and/or  (at least in my case) blame the victim’s appearance as the main reason for committing acts of emotional, physical and sexual violence.

A plain face and skinny body is just as threatening as an ugly face and fat body or attractive face and perfect body when that individual can overpower and control you.

Body Neutral

This is where I and my alters are now.  Body neutral, for us, means that we all acknowledge the unique beauty and health of our body as it works to help us live a happy life.  Some body parts are more interesting or attractive than others.  The whole package is perfect for us because everything works and is in good health.

Flaws are positive instead of negative because they are the parts of our body unique to us.  Being physically attractive and having body parts that can attract more attention than others are acknowledged as part of our self image instead of ignored out of shame.  Accepting that it’s ok to look good and interesting without shame and hate is body neutral.

Fat is only a problem when it negatively affects personal health.  I love my small belly; it took me a long time to accept it, but having that small rounded part where my female organs rest reminds me that I am not too skinny anymore and have enough fat to properly regulate my hormonal system without medication.  Some of the people whom I most admire are not slim – the women are curvy and round; the men are more rectangle or square or oval and rounded but strong and muscular and healthy.

Practicing good self care and eating for pleasure are body neutral and body positive actions.  Eating nutritious and junk foods in balance with the body’s needs is body neutral.  This is an important part for me because I’ve always been under weight.  Gaining weight is difficult and made recovery from anorexia more challenging.  But relearning how to enjoy food and to eat a variety of nutrient dense (mostly healthy) food has helped a lot.  Being adventurous, flexible about the definition of healthy and nutritious, and willing to experiment or break rules also helps find the fun in eating again.

Body Positive

I am working on this part – it will be a work in progress for the rest of my life.

Beliveing and internalizing that it’s ok to look good and interesting without shame and hate is body positive.

Wearing clothes that fit, accessories that are comfortable and express personality, and looking like the best version of ourselves is a step towards body positive.  Learning to love each and every part of our body along with the whole package is a step towards body positive.  Looking in a mirror and loving the body/face reflected back at me is body positive.

Defining my personal style; learning to dress according to my unique shape and personality; putting time and effort into my appearance for my own confidence and pleasure – these are all steps towards being body positive that I am working on.  As a female, I have more resources for female style and positive image than for male style and positive image.

Therefore the links I post in the conclusion are not about male positive body image, but have valuable information that relates to positive body image in general.  i.e. the posts and information comes from a female perspective, but the knowledge can be applied to males too.

If anyone has resources to share (especially for males), feel free to post links in the responses below.  I will share them in a future post with acknowledgements.


I don’t hate my body or myself anymore.  My alters do not hate themselves or this body anymore.  My body does not fit the ideals for Western or Asian physical beauty.  And that is ok.  I have a personal style now thanks to the program I joined last year and am not invisible anymore.  That personal style is still evolving as I learn what I like and dislike and replace wardrobe pieces to suit who I am now instead of who I was before.

Body neutral is a good place to be.  Body positive is where I land at some point every day for a few moments.  Body negative is where I go when I get triggered or feel overwhelmed with internal stressors.

Somewhere in the back of my mind is the fear that I will relapse and get so stressed out that I start skipping meals again.  But in the front of my mind is the knowledge that I am not alone and can reach out to ask for help.  I hope someday others can feel this way too.

Thanks for reading.