You’ve probably seen at least one meme joking about the weight people will gain during the lockdown. Or you might’ve complained about it to your friends, casually poking fun at yourself and your lack of activity. I’m guilty of this too, staring at myself in the mirror and poking at the growing fat taking space in my arms.
There’s so much guilt involved when talking about body image issues during a worldwide crisis. You have the typical feelings of guilt that’s already associated with body image issues (why do you look like this, why are you like this, stop, you know this is your fault) and being a feminist with body image issues (I shouldn’t feel bad about this, I know better), but on top of this is the very real fact that people are literally dying. I don’t want to think about my body when other people are scared that they can’t eat, but I can’t help it, either.
“I feel guilty about eating and not exercising. It’s so awful but when the lockdown happened, I thought it meant that I’d be able to eat more healthily and follow a regular eating pattern, but it just ended with me snacking all the time. I thought that maybe since we’re holed up here, we’d cook and we’d have time to be more mobile and exercise, but that didn’t happen,” says Maria, a fellow content creator and feminist.
It doesn’t help that people are using this time to ramp up on productivity content, how you should use this time to work on your goals. While there’s nothing inherently wrong about that, it can sometimes sound like someone condescendingly telling you to just get up and start losing it. (And I’m not even talking about the people who would literally do that, telling others to use this time to “finally reach their perfect body.”)
“Social media definitely contributes to my feelings of guilt,” adds Maria. “It’s either random people joking about how fat they’ll look after the quarantine on my timeline or people I know who’ll post things like ‘working out and gotta not gain weight over the quarantine.’”
I’m not going to tell you to love your body “for all its flaws.” I don’t always love my body either, and that’s okay. Think body neutrality, the movement that encourages accepting your body and the negative feelings you might have about it. As The Cut quotes in an article about the growing movement: “‘My problem with body love, beside the fact that it’s a high standard, is it’s asking women to regulate their emotions, not just their bodies,’ says Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, author of Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives. ‘I don’t see the pressure on women really easing up, and then you’re supposed to have this bulletproof self-esteem on top of all that. It’s not something we can really live up to. Body love keeps the focus on the body. The times I’m happiest are when I’m not thinking about my body at all.’”
Here’s a few tips for everyone struggling with their body image during this time:
1. Remind yourself (and others) that it’s okay to gain weight
We shouldn’t use the lockdown to propagate fat phobia. There is nothing wrong with gaining weight—it’s definitely not any sort of moral or personal failure. And besides, there’s a lot of factors surrounding it that’s not just about eating less and moving more. As James Hamblin writes for The Atlantic, “seeing obesity as a manifestation of the interplay between many systems—genetic, microbial, environmental—invites the understanding that human physiology has changed along with our relationship to the species in and around us. As these new scientific models unfold, they impugn the idea of weight as an individual character flaw, revealing it for the self-destructive myth it has always been.” Your fear and anxiety can also play into it.
At the same time, of course you’d see a difference in your body because of such a dramatic routine change. As Megan Jay Crabbe, author of “Body Positive Power,” advises, “how about we don’t make people feel shitty about their body changing when weight fluctuations are an entirely natural reaction to our lives being a little bit different right now.”
And remember, there’s a global health crisis right now. It’s perfectly rational and valid that your main concern isn’t about “eating right” or exercising. As Dana Suchow, an educator on eating disorders, writes, “shift your focus to food=food no matter what type of food it is. The goal right now is that you get nourishment in whatever form you can access.” If all you can afford to stock up on is pancit canton, then so be it.
2. Remember that your feelings are valid
It’s easy to go on a downward spiral when you have body image issues. I know! So if you’re already starting to hate how your body feels like, remember that it’s okay to not feel okay about gaining weight. Don’t beat yourself up over that, either. Some days you might struggle to find anything you like about your body. That’s alright. Breathe before the panic sets in.
As I mentioned earlier, sometimes seeing how certain people act on the internet can trigger negative feelings about your body image. During this time, feel free to unfollow/mute/block accounts that will trigger that. Suchow says, “Mute the push up challenges and unfollow people who make you feel guilty for not being a productive superhero. You’re doing the best that you can no matter what!”
Geneviève Devereaux, who runs the anorexia recovery blog I Choose Ice Cream, also puts it bluntly: “Unfollow any accounts touting weight loss during a global pandemic.”
You should also try to do your part to make sure that the internet is a safe space for everyone during this time. As De Elizabeth wrote for Allure, self-deprecatingly joking about gaining weight during the worldwide quarantine on social media not only veers into fatphobia, it’s also very triggering to those who suffer from eating disorders. As a third world country, there aren’t really any good statistics on eating disorders in the Philippines. But here are some figures from the US-based organization ANAD, which stands for “Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.” Citing psychiatric journals, it reports that “Every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result from an eating disorder…Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
4. Enlist your friends and family
“Set up boundaries with those you are quarantined with,” Suchow writes. Tell your friends and family that you’re struggling and that they should refrain from commenting on how much food you’re eating, or how “unhealthy” they are. I understand that the idea of standing up for yourself may be scary, but it will take off so much mental load.
5. Get rid of your weighing scale
“If you’re struggling with your weight, having a scale at home can feel like a ticking time bomb,” notes Suchow. Having one at home during a period where you’re expected to always be at home can be dangerous.