Lockdown Weight Gain And The Pressure To Lose It
When the UK government’s lockdown roadmap was announced towards the end of February, I was thrilled. Finally - nights out, house parties with more than just the 4 other people I live with, hopping on a train into the city and catching a film at my favourite cinema – all the best bits of summers past were going to be legal again in the near future. I was trying not to get my hopes up too much about the June 21st date, as we all know that the pandemic is unpredictable and the government is prone to changing their minds last minute, but it felt incredible to know that in just a few months I could be indoors with my friends, wearing clothes I haven’t dug out in over a year, catching up on what feels like a lifetime of missed conversations.
As soon as I logged onto social media, pictures of bowls of ice captioned ‘my diet until June 21st’ and tweets about being in the gym ‘8 days a week as soon as they open’ flashed up all over my feed. I am used to fatphobia in the media and amongst my peers and am usually pretty unaffected by it, but the sheer volume of posts all at the same time was overwhelming.
I can understand the urge to focus on June the 21st as a date on which to pin all our hopes of the ‘perfect summer body’ (a trend which comes up every year) – after all, we’ve all been inside for over a year, and cracking out a bikini and taking countless pictures with friends we haven’t seen in months is certainly enticing. However, social media seems to think that you can’t do these things if you’re fat, and that’s just not the case. You only have to go to fat body positive accounts on Instagram to see fat people having the time of their lives in outfits showing their skin, cellulite and stretch marks, enjoying the summer just like everyone else.
I spoke to Abby, who gained weight over lockdown, about her thoughts on the pressure to rid ourselves of pandemic pounds. ‘Lockdown hit me mentally very hard and when I’m struggling the thing I turn to is food,’ she explained. ‘Seeing numerous posts about losing lockdown weight the main thing I felt was sadness that after a year of such tumultuous times and such a spotlight on mental health people were choosing to focus on something that shouldn’t matter. I hate the significance that has been put onto June 21st and keep on picturing scenes of continuous selfies and posting on social media almost as if it’s a competition.’ Despite her feelings on weight loss rhetoric, Abby is choosing to lose weight as she feels that it will help her be more able to do the things she loves, such as going for long walks.
Other women I spoke to are not intending to lose weight at all, and instead want to embrace the fact that their bodies kept them going in an intensely difficult year. Sabrina, who edits a political art magazine, shared her thoughts on the shame people seem to have about lockdown weight gain: ‘people acting like gaining weight or even being fat is the worst thing that can happen to someone...even in a literal pandemic! It is the most natural thing in the world to have gained weight during this stressful and frankly horrific time so emerging from lockdown with some evidence of that time really is such a small thing’.
Being fat has always been seen by many as the worst case scenario – in fact, a Yale study revealed that nearly half of its participants would rather lose a year of life than be ‘obese’, and fifteen percent would lose ten years. During the pandemic, fat people have been told that they’re a strain on the NHS, despite there being no strong, clear, and unflawed link between COVID and fatness.
The body positivity and body neutrality movements are needed now more than ever, especially given social media’s impact on self-esteem. Bridie, who says she jumped up by several clothes sizes during lockdown, told me that her self-esteem is directly linked to her use of social media: ‘seeing the crash diets and workout challenges people have been posting to lose weight before the summer has impacted my confidence. I saw [influencer] Amber Gill’s post about her weight loss a few days ago and it honestly made me feel so self-conscious even though the ‘after’ photo showed her in perfect studio lighting, posing and with full hair and makeup’.
Fatphobia is nothing new, and I doubt it’s going anywhere any time soon. During this time of increased negative attention on fat people’s bodies, it is important to remember that there is no date you need to have the 'perfect body' by, because the perfect body does not exist. This summer is for everyone – fat, thin, young, old – to celebrate making it through one of the most traumatic periods in many of our lives. In the meantime, let’s keep looking after our bodies in whatever way feels best to us, and remember that they carried us through this uncertain time.
Written by Caitlin Barr