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body image, body positivity, body neutrality

Is body neutrality the key to body image freedom?

As a middle-aged woman, I've spent decades battling for my body. I have become a skilled fighter against the advertising industry, the entertainment industry, the fashion industry, the beauty industry and the fitness industry. I've learned to fend off societal expectations, language norms, social media filters and even my own brain, simply to exist in peace inside my own body.

It's not a war I chose to wage, but one I was born into. From infancy, magazine covers at grocery store checkouts and billboards along highways have bombed me with messages about bodies and beauty. It's been a daily assault my whole life, boom after boom after boom.

I'm also a mother of three who didn't want to hand this "forever war" down to her children. My own mom served as an excellent example on the body image front, which gave me a tactical advantage for which I'm grateful. But I knew the bombardment from the outside world would hit my kids just as it hit me, and I vowed to prepare them as best I could.

The first thing to know is that the enemy in the body image war is sneaky, relentless and everywhere. It's in every message that tells us we're too fat, too skinny, too curvy, too flat, too tall, too short—or not enough of any of those things. "Too" and "not enough" are its weapons of choice and boy are they effective, targeting with perfect precision the part of us that wants to belong, to be accepted, to be loved.


In a war, we can deal with an enemy attack in two ways: take cover or fight.

Body positivity is a weapon we use to fight body negativity. The enemy says "Your tummy's too flabby," and we fire back with "No way, my belly is fabulous!" The enemy says "You need to lose weight" and we fire back with "Screw you, my body is gorgeous!" The problem with fighting body negativity with body positivity is that it means constantly engaging in battle. One side hits, the other side hits back. Even when you're winning the battle, it's exhausting.

Body positivity can be especially problematic when it comes from other people. Jonah Hill recently spoke to this issue, asking people to stop commenting on his weight loss, either negatively or positively. "I know you mean well but I kindly ask that you not comment on my body," Hill said in a post on Twitter. "Good or bad I want to politely let you know it's not helpful and doesn't feel good. Much respect."

That message is so simple—I know you mean well, but your positive messages about my body are not helpful.

Those messages aren't helpful because what they say to the person is "Someone is judging my body." Judgment itself is what keeps the war going, whether it's others doing it or us doing it to ourselves. Real freedom lies in dropping the judgments altogether. That's where body neutrality comes in.

Body neutrality means moving away from judgment altogether and taking a neutral view of our body. It's not "good" or "bad," it's not "ugly" or "gorgeous," it just is. Instead of asking how our body looks and going with a negative or positive judgment as the answer, we ask different questions to determine if anything needs to be adjusted: How does my body feel? Does it function well? Is it fulfilling its purpose, enabling me to move around, enjoy things and be of service in this world?

Very Well Mind offers a description of it:

"Body neutrality means taking a neutral perspective towards your body, meaning that you do not have to cultivate a love for your body or feel that you have to love your body every day. You may not always love your body, but you may still live happily and appreciate everything your body can do."

Body neutrality serves as a shield against body negative messaging. It allows us to put down our weapons and walk away from the body image war, largely unscathed by the bombardments of the enemy. It's not putting up a white flag and surrendering to body negativity; it's becoming Switzerland in the face of it. It's simply saying, "Yeah, I'm not going to do this anymore."

Body neutrality sounds simple enough, but it's not necessarily easy to achieve considering how trained we are to judge. Once we do achieve it, though, the result is liberation.

My biggest body neutrality epiphany hit some years ago when I saw that women were spending gobs of money getting butt implants. I had spent so much of my teen and young adult years lamenting my "child-bearing hips" and formidable derriere in the face of tiny-bottomed models, and now suddenly having some trunk junk was all the rage? That's when I truly internalized the reality that it's all bullshit. All of the judgments and the subconscious thinking about what's ideal or desirable—it all went out the window because it's based on literally nothing.

Actress Jameela Jamil offered an example of what body neutrality can look like when she told Glamour in 2019, "I don't think about my body ever. Imagine just not thinking about your body. You're not hating it. You're not loving it. You're just a floating head. I'm a floating head wandering through the world."

Personally, I don't think we have to never think about our bodies at all. I think about my body daily because I want to feel good and have energy. I know that what I do with my body impacts those things, so I pay attention to what I'm eating and make sure I'm getting enough movement, considering my sedentary job—but I can do all that from a place of gratitude for what my body enables me to do, rather than a judgmental analysis of what my body is or isn't.

I also don't think we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. Body positivity has been life-changing for some people, and body neutrality might feel unnecessary for people who honestly feel awesome in their own bodies and want to celebrate that. For me, there's a place for body positivity alongside body neutrality. Putting on an outfit that fits just right and saying, "Dang, lookin' good" is fun. When used as a genuine celebration instead of as a reactionary weapon, body positivity is healthy, in my experience.

What all of this really comes down to is that truly being at peace in our bodies doesn't come from constantly fighting negativity with positivity, especially in a war over body image that truly has no end. The commercial machine will continue to do what it does best—tell us we should feel insecure and then prey on those insecurities. We can fight back with opposite messaging—and sometimes that might be a reasonable strategy—but we have to realize that judgments, good and bad, just keep the war going. Perhaps a better strategy is to decide the fight simply isn't worth it, lay down the weapons and walk away from the battle altogether.

I have a body that lets me live in this world. That's neat. I'm thankful for it. End of story.

Joy

Nurse turns inappropriate things men say in the delivery room into ‘inspirational’ art

"Can you move to the birthing ball so I can sleep in the bed?"

Holly the delivery nurse.

After working six years as a labor and delivery nurse Holly, 30, has heard a lot of inappropriate remarks made by men while their partners are in labor. “Sometimes the moms think it’s funny—and if they think it’s funny, then I’ll laugh with them,” Holly told TODAY Parents. “But if they get upset, I’ll try to be the buffer. I’ll change the subject.”

Some of the comments are so wrong that she did something creative with them by turning them into “inspirational” quotes and setting them to “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton on TikTok.

“Some partners are hard to live up to!” she jokingly captioned the video.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

The mesmerizing lost art of darning knit fabric.

For most of human history, people had to make their own clothing by hand, and sewing skills were subsequently passed down from generation to generation. Because clothing was so time-consuming and labor-intensive to make, people also had to know how to repair clothing items that got torn or damaged in some way.

The invention of sewing and knitting machines changed the way we acquire clothing, and the skills people used to possess have largely gone by the wayside. If we get a hole in a sock nowadays, we toss it and replace it. Most of us have no idea how to darn a sock or fix a hole in any knit fabric. It's far easier for us to replace than to repair.

But there are still some among us who do have the skills to repair clothing in a way that makes it look like the rip, tear or hole never happened, and to watch them do it is mesmerizing.

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Pop Culture

Artist uses AI to create ultra realistic portraits of celebrities who left us too soon

What would certain icons look like if nothing had happened to them?

Mercury would be 76 today.

Some icons have truly left this world too early. It’s a tragedy when anyone doesn’t make it to see old age, but when it happens to a well-known public figure, it’s like a bit of their art and legacy dies with them. What might Freddie Mercury have created if he were granted the gift of long life? Bruce Lee? Princess Diana?

Their futures might be mere musings of our imagination, but thanks to a lot of creativity (and a little tech) we can now get a glimpse into what these celebrities might have looked like when they were older.

Alper Yesiltas, an Istanbul-based lawyer and photographer, created a photography series titled “As If Nothing Happened,” which features eerily realistic portraits of long gone celebrities in their golden years. To make the images as real looking as possible, Yesiltas incorporated various photo editing programs such as Adobe Lightroom and VSCO, as well as the AI photo-enhancing software Remini.

“The hardest part of the creative process for me is making the image feel ‘real’ to me,” Yesiltas wrote about his passion project. “The moment I like the most is when I think the image in front of me looks as if it was taken by a photographer.”

Yesiltas’ meticulousness paid off, because the results are uncanny.

Along with each photo, Yesiltas writes a bittersweet message “wishing” how things might have gone differently … as if nothing happened.
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