Katie Willcox has basically built a business on promoting the importance of self-love and acceptance—she is the founder of the Healthy Is the New Skinny movement, after all. But that doesn't mean she's a body-positive activist. In fact, Katie is a supporter of body-neutrality: A world where instead of focusing on the way you look, you simply strive to be the best version of yourself both physically and emotionally.
"I personally don't think sitting in your bedroom alone and taking picture after picture in a mirror in your underwear, showing your stomach off, is a reflection of someone living a happy, healthy life," she tells Shape exclusively. "That's very isolating and still means that you're obsessing over your body—even if it's in a 'positive' way."
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While Katie clarifies that by saying that it's totally OK to be proud of physical progress, a picture can't accurately represent the whole experience that goes into making a major lifestyle change. "When you're adopting healthier habits and trying to be more active and mindful of your body, you're bound to see a physical change," she says. "I don't think you need to deny that or not be proud of that, but it shouldn't be your only focus." (Related: I'm Not Body Positive or Negative, I'm Just Me)
"The changes to your appearance are only a part of the story, and I believe that the effort that went into that, changing your mindset, attitude, and overall outlook on life should also count for something," she continues. "In fact, that's what getting healthy is all about."
The same goes for sharing pictures of stretch marks, cellulite, and other imperfections. "You don't have to love or hate your flaws, they're just a part of your body," says Katie. "Instagram is a platform where people see trends and feel like they're supposed to share their own flaws to feel better about themselves. Whether it's obsessing about different shapes and sizes or stretch marks or cellulite, we're missing the bigger picture which is that we are not our bodies. We're so much more than that."
Instead of nitpicking details about yourself or your body, try focusing on being more body-neutral—because your body is really only an extension of who you are, suggests Katie. "When you shift that focus is when you really start to be your authentic self and genuinely feel better on the inside," she says. (Related: Katie Willcox Wants Women to Stop Thinking They Need to Lose Weight to Be Loveable)
This all isn't to say that Katie hates social media or totally condemns it—she has more than 106,000 followers on Instagram alone—but she focuses on spreading the right message and tone. "If you go to my feed, you'll see pictures of us on a hike, walking to the store, squeezing in a family workout session late at night, or just hanging out and being happy," she says. "My actual life isn't just me obsessing with the way I look, and I think the whole point of having a healthy body image is to not think about your body all the time."
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As the body-positive movement progresses, Katie hopes that women will come together and ask why they don't feel fulfilled. "When you focus so much on your body and reaching a size, there are other issues that you're not paying attention to," she says, "and that's why you're in this negative cycle trying to attain happiness through an image."
As for her message to every woman who's ever felt insecure and self-conscious: "Let's not get stuck here, but get to a point where our body isn't our main focus anymore. Continue that personal dialogue where you remind yourself that you're not defined by your body—it's simply a small extension of the amazing person you are as a whole."