The Pandemic and Body Image

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

If you’re feeling stressed about your body image, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Social media has been a blessing in isolation, but has also created an environment that has focused a lot of attention on ‘fitness’ in lockdown. I’m sure that if you explore your feed, you’ll find a large number of posts cracking jokes about people losing out on their summer bodies; before and after pictures showing the gains made during lockdown. It has been suggested that humor is an important coping mechanism people use to deal with stress. However, it is important to note that statements like “Need to lose the Quarantine 15”, “Guess the only clothes that fits me are sweat pants” and so many more contribute to a culture which suggests that entering a higher weight category is somehow a “curse”. The message for everyone in that weight category is clear, ‘I don’t want to look like you’.

Body shaming is not a novel phenomenon. However, there has been a steady increase in the attention given to workouts and fitness. Celebrities and influencers have posted numerous videos and tips for at home workouts. While this is not inherently a bad thing, it narrows attention of people to their own body and sets an ideal quarantine routine in their mind. This also makes them more conscious of their body images. There seems to be a pressure that one must engage in work outs or one is not using the quarantine period ‘to the fullest’. All of this is coupled with an inability to reach this ideal. For many of us, this is because we do not have access to the usual infrastructure needed to exercise; and for many more, there is a lack of will and motivation to engage in workouts. You may just prefer binging a show or taking a nap. That’s alright.

Although weight is a distinct concept from body image, I feel that it is important to mention that many experts have said that it is normal to gain weight during this crisis period. So not only is social comparison telling you that you must work out every day, it is also possible that you are gaining weight. You are facing stress due to the pandemic and also the consequences of social distancing. A disruption in normal routine, separation from friends and family, uncertainty about the future and other economic and social consequences have a huge impact on an individual’s mental health. This drastic change is likely to also cause changes in your body. WebMD conducted an international poll (not including India) and found that out of over 1,000 respondents almost half the women and one third of the men respondents reported a significant gain in weight. 35% of the surveyed cases quoted “stress eating” as the reason for weight gain. Apart from this, easy accessibility of pleasure foods can contribute to fluctuations in weight.

Experts have predicted an increase in eating disorders and body image issues during the quarantine. They have primarily credited this to the lack of means to distract yourself or escape from this matter. Fitness organisations have also negatively contributed by trying to incentivise losing weight and providing the goal of being ‘slim’ over being healthy with all this time on your hands. It’s important to note that for many, even if they are not actively working, this period is not a carefree vacation. It is not necessary to force oneself to work out to lose weight or feel guilty about not doing so if one doesn’t feel up to it.

The problem that we are currently facing is how to deal with body image issues during this period. I will not give you a solution or a five-steps-solve-all-process. There is no single solution which can work for everyone. Nonetheless, there are two ways that one can possibly handle these issues. The first is “Love yourself for all your imperfections”. The concept propounds being proud of your body and renouncing popular body standards. This period is a difficult time for everyone and your body is doing its best to keep you happy. Whether it be excess weight or face acne, you must endeavour to accept your body for what it is. It is alright to gain weight. The most important thing is to accept yourself.

That said, it is difficult to love your body all the time unconditionally in this world. There is no need to pressure yourself to love your body. After all, your body is a very small part of what makes up your identity. You can give their body image minimal importance. For example, a person may give more attention to their mental health or intelligence and sense of humour, which they feel are more integral qualities over body image.

I can’t tell you that one course of action is better than the other or that one is easier to take up. Each one of you might gel with different ideas. My aim is to suggest these as possible ways of thinking to maintain your body image. The principle of the entire article applies here as well, don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you can’t seem to implement either idea in your life. There may be a completely different way that works for you. The important thing is to stay in charge. If you feel like this is becoming an issue outside your control or if you want to talk about it, seek help from your family, friends or even call a helpline like ours.

#positivity #mentalhealth

Read more at – Koenig, D. (2020). Quarantine Weight Gain Not A Joking Matter. WebMD Poll.

By – Josika Mahindru Artwork by – Nikita Gupta

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