When I came back home from university at the start of lockdown, I didn’t get a chance to see anyone I knew. 6 months later, when restrictions finally started easing up and socialising began once again, it immediately became clear that there was only one thing on everyone’s minds - weight. I’d been one of those people that had steered clear of social media in lockdown and hadn’t picked up on the recent trends going around. But after being amidst constant conversations around lockdown weight, how much everyone’s been eating and what seemed like a very unhealthy balance between constant food discussions and negative self-image, it began to weigh on my mind.
The stress and uncertainty that lockdown restrictions and such drastic lifestyle changes brought about have undoubtedly impacted all kinds of relationships - most importantly perhaps our relationships with our bodies and ourselves. 53% of adults in the UK reported feeling ‘worse’ or ‘much worse’ about their body image during lockdown. And this is not one of those ‘trends’ that’s limited to a certain region either. There’s been a global rise in conversations around "Quarantine Pounds" as well as a push for an increased focus on weight loss with all the extra time lockdown afforded us.
It’s only natural that amidst dealing with the uncertainty that came with lockdown and isolation, eating habits and our body’s response to that food may be drastically different. What is far more problematic is the idea that these changes are all consciously controlled, and that blame can be placed on people who haven’t been able to manage these changes with ideal results.
Amidst increasing conversations around body positivity, diet trends and discourse have also somehow shifted to accommodate. Trends pushing for weight loss in lockdown position themselves as a sort of self-care, but these hidden messages can be all the more damaging to those already struggling with food or body image issues. There’s one common trend that associates weight gain with stress, making people see it as a problem that needs to be fixed to manage that stress. What this trend doesn’t take into account is that stress doesn’t impact food habits linearly. To say that weight gain can be a sign of stress puts undue pressure on those gaining weight and completely ignores the impact of stress on those who may have lost weight due to it. Suggestions like keeping food diaries, and portion control as a way of gaining back the control lost to lockdown habits also fails to take into account the impact such habits can have on those already struggling with eating disorders. There’s also conversations that present a very one sided view to weight gain in lockdown and show it as a serious global problem. This take isn’t new but it has gotten a new spin by being linked to the intensity of coronavirus symptoms. Pieces that discuss numbers and statistics regarding weight gain without taking into account the wide range of reasons that can contribute to such physical changes are far too simplistic to be taken seriously as suggestions moving forward.
Of course, many are recognising the impact such conversations can have at an already stressful time. Body neutrality is also coming up as a counter to problematic suggestions and the negative thoughts and behaviours that can come up as a result. The idea is that we shouldn’t be forced to always love our body as a counter to hating it. It doesn’t have to be good or bad. Body neutrality allows us to focus on what our body does for us as opposed to focusing on how we feel about it. Social media campaigns are also a saviour for many because they provide a counter to the negative marketing diet culture promotes. Michelle Elman, the founder of instagram account @scarrednotscared, author and life coach talks about just how ingrained problematic diet culture is for so many of us.
“I think it's really indicative to how pervasive and powerful diet culture is that we're all focusing on body image in a pandemic. There are way larger things in the world going on. If the main thing you’re focussing on is your body, it’s largely because it's a coping mechanism - not because there's actually something wrong with your body” she says.
The impact of this diet culture can’t be countered in a day, and additional sources of stress make the progress we’ve made seem like it’s going backwards instead. But recognising the ways in which this diet culture penetrates our conversations and everyday observances is key to countering it. As we endure the second lockdown, it's important that we don’t fall into the trap of seeing such problematic takes on our bodies as self-care and body positivity.
Written by Anmol Irfan