Body Neutrality

Body Neutrality

April 25, 2023

By Michelle Lehrman

How to get a yoga body:

  1. Have a body.
  2. Do yoga.

That’s it! Last summer, as I found myself neglecting my own yoga practice in the hustle of teaching, I posted a time-lapse video of myself in a yoga practice. In the video, I am only wearing pants and a sports bra, which is not a comfortable thing for me to do publicly. My average stomach and back are completely visible. When I fold forward, my stomach rolls. My sports bra emphasizes my love handles. I don’t love the video, but it shows that I am a normal, active, healthy person. I chose to focus on what my body is capable of rather than what it looks like. When I made a post like this, I used some general hashtags, and then I explored to see what else I should use. I used #bodypositivity because I did not know that I had another option. As I clicked through #bodypositivity posts, I came across a different term: Body Neutrality.

Group of women doing YogaAnne Poirier writes, “Body neutrality prioritizes the body’s function, and what the body can do, rather than its appearance. You don’t have to love or hate it. You can feel neutral towards it.” This is exactly how I feel. I want my students to see someone strong. I want them to notice that I can hold a handstand or that I can teach a 45-minute spin class on the bike and speak through the whole class. I will intentionally wear a crop top so they can see that I do these things with some extra pounds, just in case that matters to someone.

I don’t think social media has done favors for body image. There are plenty of accounts that do promote healthy physical and mental habits, but you’ll have to scroll through a lot of nonsense to find them. Every time a celebrity promotes a diet they are on (yes, I’m looking at you, bone broth), I wonder how many people will try and fail because it’s not realistic in the context of most people’s lives. Celebrities and influences edit photos to change their bodies. Influencers incorrectly model yoga poses. In my most vulnerable years as a teenager, I would have been influenced in the most negative way. As a true child of the 90s, I was (am) obsessed with the Spice Girls. As an adult, I realize that while they are all beautiful women, their main message was about girl power, which is a message that still resonates with me.

Group of people doing yoga

While I am grateful that I did most of my growing up before social media started to dictate how I should feel about my body, I feel a responsibility to be a voice for those who did not. Even without the social media influence, I knew I did not look the way I “should.” That’s why I’ll always post the video or photo in which I don’t look “perfect” for the small audience I have. I think about my precious 4-month-old niece. I praise her belly, her cheeks, and her thighs because they are chunky (truly, they are perfect). We will all protect her in every way that we possibly can, and eventually, she will find her way out into the world with people who are less supportive. I hope she will always be able to love herself and the body that my sister so lovingly grew. But if she feels neutral about her body, I will have done my job as her aunt.

My weight has fluctuated over the years; it’s up now because of my anxiety medication. I was not an active child. I hated gym class, and I never played sports. I was a theatre kid, so the only exercise I had (and I would use the word exercise loosely in this context), was dance within the confines of whatever show I was working on. I took dance classes as a child but let that go until my junior year of high school. I was not a theatre major in college, but I did take some dance classes as electives and started using the gym with a friend. Finding my way to the yoga mat and the spin bike were game changers for me – it was group fitness but in a way that I felt comfortable going at my own pace. As a teacher, I hope I can provide a safe space for others to feel supported going at their own pace. If I can help someone feel nothing about their body, I’m happy!

Michelle Lehrman is a yoga and spin instructor in NYC.

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