Raise your hand if you’ve seen fitness influencers promoting their “stay fit during quarantine” program? How about nutrition companies promoting their latest and greatest diet to “lose the quarantine weight”? Anyone else building up their defenses in anticipation the next wave that’ll be sure to tie these messages into the new year?
You can’t see me, BUT GIRL MY HAND IS UP!
Aside from its obvious impact on the economy, our social lives, the health of millions of Americans, and so much more, the pandemic has also had an impact on something less apparent — our body image.
In normal times, diet culture slings messages at us about how we need to lose weight, shrink our bodies, manipulate our foods, and do the most intense exercise possible to be considered “worthy.” But add that on top of us having more time at home (read: more time on social media), gyms being closed, and our food habits changing, and it’s not hard to see how the pandemic has negatively affected body image.
Below are a few prominent ways the pandemic has impacted body image for so many, plus I wanted to give you a few actions you can take to give the middle finger to diet culture and start to create your own body narrative.
“I wanted to give you few actions you can take to give the middle finger to diet culture and start to create your own body narrative.”
BODY IMAGE IMPACT #1: The dialogue around all of the “new, spare time” we have from being at home.
Because we are all quarantining, socially distancing, and (a lot of us) working from home (shout out to all the essential workers who are doing the hard work!), we are being told we must use ALL of this free time to get super fit, super healthy, and ultimately come out of the pandemic in the “best” version of our bodies.
In theory, using all of this spare time for movement and cooking and “being healthy” sounds great, but it is also very privileged and ignores the fact that all of us are living through one of the most challenging events of our lifetime. While some of us are lucky enough to maintain our work from home, millions of people have lost their jobs (or their own businesses), haven’t been able to see their family, or have lost loved ones – the last thing they want to worry about is also having to make sure they do not gain weight.
Action item: if you’re feeling pressured to be productive during your “spare” time, ask yourself why. What’s the goal of being productive right now? Will it actually help me feel better, or will opting for rest better serve me? Can I instead do some light movement (walking, yoga) that will help reduce my stress, rather than increase it?
BODY IMAGE IMPACT #2: Unpacking internalized fatphobia.
Let’s face it – we are all scared of gaining weight. Whether or not we want to admit it, we are, but it’s not our fault. Because diet culture profits off of this fear, it directly upholds the system of fatphobia, or “the fear of and discrimination against large bodies.” Not surprisingly, we inevitably internalize this fatphobia, making us fear weight gain and body changes so deeply that we will do anything to prevent it. Or, if our bodies do change (which is totally normal, by the way), we deem this year a “failure” and feel pressured to take dramatic action to reverse the changes.
Additionally, as we’re home more often than normal, we are also more engaged on social media, leading us to compare our lives, bodies, exercise, and food to those we see on our screens. With this comparison comes a sense of inadequacy – that we are not doing “enough” to take care of ourselves or keep our bodies up to society’s standards.
Action item: critically assess the social media content you are ingesting. How do these accounts make you feel? Do they make you feel as though you are not good enough, or make you feel pressured to change the way you eat and/or move your body? I would encourage you to unfollow any accounts that make you feel as though you are not enough, in any way.
BODY IMAGE IMPACT #3: Stores are closed, meaning more online shopping (and less certainty on what size to order!).
Picture this: you find a pair of ADORABLE jeans on the internet. They are so your style and, since you haven’t treated yourself to a new clothing item recently, you decide to go for it! You order your standard size and wait (impatiently) for them to arrive in your mailbox. But when they get here, much to your surprise, your standard size is WAY too small. Sound familiar?
This is an experience a lot of women are having right now – since more people are shopping online, it’s hard to know what size you are, especially in different styles of clothing. And then, if we order the size we THINK we are and it doesn’t fit, we inevitably take it personally.
Here’s the thing though – the problem isn’t just the size, it’s what we think our size says about us. (Though women’s clothing sizes obviously have their own array of problems which is why I’m here on Revelle in the first place!) Going back to point #2, because we have internalized fatphobia, we think a change in our clothing size indicates a change in our perceived worthiness.
Action item: if you have to size up in a clothing item, what conversation are you really having with yourself? What are you deciding it means about who you are? How can you start to create a new narrative around what sizing means about you as a person? (Hint: the size of your clothing does not define your worth!)
To conclude, I want to be sure you know that you are not alone in your struggle with body image during the pandemic. Diet culture doesn’t make it easy to love ourselves in the best of times, so it’s no surprise its effects are amplified during this time of national trauma. This is your permission to be kind to yourself, even when (or especially when) your body is changing.
Aubrey Wall is the Owner and Founder of Training for Body Acceptance, a body confidence coaching business on a mission to help women unlearn diet culture, find food freedom, embrace the joy of healthy movement, and live as their most confident, empowered selves.