For a few decades, “body positivity” has been a dominant socio-cultural paradigm. According to this paradigm, we should be positive about our physical appearance, no matter how it looks. However, this ideal is increasingly criticized because it appears to be impossible for many to ban negative judgment on (parts of) their body. In reaction, a new movement called “body neutrality” is on the rise, stating that it is best to be neutral about your body, no matter how it looks.
According to Plato, every person has three wishes: to be healthy, to be rich by honest means, and to be beautiful. Plato’s protégé Aristotle stated that only blind people can ask why people desire physical beauty. In other words, physical beauty triggers us whether we want to or not. Indeed, meeting beauty standards seems to be of all times and places, from women’s tiny waists in Victorian fashion to the voluptuous ideal during the Renaissance. The fact that beauty is desirable is not problematic from an esthetic point of view: no matter if we consider buildings, environments, bodies or any other topic in which physical appearance is involved, it is evident that beauty is preferred and aimed for. However, in a moral sense, especially when some bodies are considered more desirable than others, it causes inequality between people, often causing low self-esteem and sometimes health problems such as eating disorders or abuse of steroids.Body positivity tries to solve this moral problem by proposing that all people are beautiful in their own way, encouraging people to love and embrace their bodies with no exceptions. This is an attempt to rewrite beauty standards towards an empty concept, devoid of fixed ideals: everyone is equally beautiful. Although body positivity addresses one of the moral issues of our focus on physical appearance by aiming for equality, the demand to change our view on esthetics has remained problematic. Not everyone is able to be positive about (every aspect of) their body, and this has become a point of critique on the body positivity movement. Body positivity does not address how to deal with negative feelings about the body other than to just be positive. Indeed, failing to be positive about your body has become taboo. This in turn has become a new source of frustration. This frustration has given rise to a new movement, “body neutrality”. It also addresses the moral aspect of physical appearance: instead of trying to be positive about your body, body neutrality advises people to accept their bodies with no exceptions and have a more neutral attitude towards it. By putting less or no emphasis on beauty or looks, the body neutrality movement tries to eliminate the focus on physical appearance altogether. Body shaming, for example, will not be disapproved because it is a negative judgment about a body, but because it places too much emphasis on the body in general. According to its ambassadors, this is a more feasible goal for those who feel they do not meet certain beauty standards: they do not have to love their bodies in any case, acceptance and a neutral attitude are enough.Both movements try to address the moral problem of inequality caused by differences in physical appearance. However, since these problems are partly caused by esthetic differences between people, our more unconscious attitude towards esthetics will remain problematic for both these paradigms. This becomes clear when we apply their ideals to other domains in which esthetics regarding physical appearance are deemed important. It is, for example, evident that being positive, accepting or even neutral without exception about every building or environment seems simply impossible.