Menu Menu

Lockdown has exposed how deeply embedded fatphobia is in our society

Panicked comments over gaining weight and toxic #Quarantine15 memes plaguing social media since the pandemic began reinforce an incredibly troubling narrative.

It only takes a few seconds of scrolling through social media at the moment to come across a meme complaining about the possibility of weight gain during quarantine. ‘Gaining weight at university was the freshers 15, this time it’s the quarantine 15,’ one says. ‘I desperately need to social distance myself from the kitchen,’ says another. Not to mention the relentless ‘before and after’ caricatures that keep popping up.   

With diet culture so deeply ingrained in the way we view ourselves and others, it comes as no surprise than even when we’re alone without anyone to impress we’re measuring our bodies and comparing how we look. And yes, now that the world is under strict orders to stay home in an effort to quell the spread of Covid-19, our lives have indeed become much more sedentary and with that, we’re more prone to become immersed (or re-immersed) in weight issues.

Access to fresh produce might have been replaced by nonperishable, slightly unhealthier alternatives, comfort food is in reach at all times, gyms have closed, and the looming sense of uncertainty has a potential to make even the most user-friendly home workouts feel like a monumental task. Combine all of this with pre-existing complicated relationships with eating and you’ve got yourself a plethora of factors that have somehow — and I must say, bafflingly — contributed to a new kind of fat-shaming (as if we needed another).

quarantine weight loss coronavirus

While we all try our best to adjust to the new ‘normal’ and cope with the extremely prevalent anxiety that’s already taking a huge toll on the day-to-day lives of many, how is it okay, therefore, to promote such obvious toxicity and share memes that do nothing but expose society’s inherent fatphobia?

‘Now is the perfect opportunity to get motivated, workout, and come out of this absolutely shredded,’ tweeted award-winning director, Taika Waititi. ‘Sadly we’re human and will probably come out of it looking like the people from Wall-E.’ Unfortunately, this is not the first example — nor will it be the last — of somebody famous saying something in such poor taste and it has spurred on an unstoppable tide of similar content that’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

In fact, online fat-shaming is thriving so much since we were forced into self-isolation, that targeted ads touting the next best weight-loss plan and comments supporting disorders like anorexia and bulimia have become as common on our feeds as Donald Trump’s ramblings.

‘Weight-gain memes and comments are damaging to all of us, and particularly to people who are personally affected by eating disorders,’ says Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association which estimates that one person dies from an eating disorder every 62 minutes. ‘This is a period of heightened anxiety, when our community is working to find new ways of staying connected. Negative body talk and weight gain jokes have long been default modes of commiseration in our culture. But, in fact, these messages don’t bring us closer together — they stoke fear, they keep us from exploring health from a holistic perspective, and they are outright harmful.’

What’s most concerning, is that although these disorders often arise from extreme dieting an exercise, they can very rapidly develop as a coping mechanism to mitigate one’s depression, anxiety, or any other underlying issues such as lingering trauma or past abuse. What tends to be dismissed as vanity and a lack of self control is actually a means of managing complicated emotions and, without the regular distractions of pre-pandemic life, confronting these things has never been more unavoidable. 

It’s for this reason that we really ought to strive to be better when it comes to our treatment of others online. Covid-19 has already led to a boom in drug and alcohol relapses and just like memes about constant drinking could be potentially damaging for those in recovery, a ‘joke’ about not being able to fit into your jeans anymore could harm anyone striving to maintain healthy eating habits amidst so much unease. ‘For people with eating disorders, this is a complete nightmare,’ says specialist therapist, Jennifer Rollin. ‘I work almost exclusively with individuals who have eating disorders and eating disorder recovery, and there are a ton of triggers right now: food scarcity, gyms being closed. Times like these provoke feelings of anxiety and eating disorders love times like these. Their worst fear is being reinforced by society and heralded as funny.’

But this is not the only problem, however. The cultural messaging put forward by these memes is undermining the tireless efforts of activists who have spent years attempting to reclaim the stigma around ‘fatness’ and push society towards a more progressive idea of health and body image. Anastasia Garcia is one of them, especially hurt by what has transpired since the pandemic began. ‘If I’m being honest, I felt triggered,’ says the plus-size photographer who’s made it her mission to transform ‘traditional’ perceptions of weight and whose body positive work has appeared in editorials for Glamour and campaigns for Chromat (among others). ‘At first, seeing that stuff took me right back to where I was 10 years ago, when getting any fatter was the scariest thing that could happen to me. I became hyper aware of my body and I’m so just disappointed that despite all the body-positive progress we’ve made, fat people remain the butt of the joke.’

These tropes stating that a body like hers is the ‘worst possible scenario’ are unfortunately nothing new in a culture that’s guided by unattainable, unhealthy beauty standards and Garcia is having none of it. Though she acknowledges that people’s Covid-19 related worries are perhaps being expressed via the deep-seated and parallel fears they have of their own bodies, she is set on ensuring that everyone — no matter their size — is appreciative of the skin they’re in when it’s what’s keeping them safe and healthy during the crisis.

‘I wanted bring light to the situation but not in a way that would create more anger, stress, and anxiety. I think there’s enough of that right now,’ she says. ‘Instead, I wanted to create something where women could take back pride in their bodies and have honest conversations about how they’re feeling and how quarantine is impacting them.’ And thus, #MyQuarantineBody was born. An initiative encouraging others to share photos of themselves in quarantine — weight loss, weight gain, or not — its sole intention is to spread the message that happiness and worth will never be defined by how you look. ‘Loving your body is a choice you make, and it’s not up to anyone else to validate or tell you that you’re beautiful enough,’ she adds. ‘It’s up to you. You hold that power, and when you make that choice, nobody can change it.’

Ultimately, we need to remember that body fear often runs deeper than most people even realise. It’s in every advertisement we hear, every person we see in the media, every friend or family member we listen to talking about their bodies. Even when the world suddenly came to a halt we were measuring ourselves, our food intake, our size, our shape, our weight, all of which, at the end of the day, is irrelevant as long as we’re protected from a fatal virus. It’s okay to feel how you’re feeling in this situation, but what’s essential is that we steer clear of tropes designed to cause additional harm and try to be a little kinder to ourselves about our choices, habits and, most importantly, our bodies.


Thred Newsletter!

Sign up to our planet-positive newsletter