2020 always felt like it was going to be numerologically significant number, didn’t it? I think it’s fair to say that it’s really not disappointing us! We are living through a bizarre and surreal moment in history, one that could be straight out of a Hollywood movie. While I’ve been heartened by the rise in community spirit, and have been so grateful that technology has lessened the impact of isolation (the internet, as always, proving to be a creative hotbed for humour), I have found myself despairing at the onslaught of exercise videos, healthy cooking advice and the normalisation of fatphobic ‘jokes’ and memes.
My coaching clients have shared that it’s not just the people who they expected might share such hurtful, thoughtless ‘jokes’, but even close friends who they had thought would be more considerate and respectful. Let’s not even fall down the rabbit hole talking about poor Adele.
For a vast chunk of the population, it appears that dying a horrible death isn’t their biggest fear during COVID-19, but rather it’s putting on the ‘quarantine 15’.
While the body positivity movement has made some strong inroads into diet culture, the tendrils of the thin ideal and fear of fat run deep. There is, sadly, still a lot of work to do before the poisonous idea that gaining weight is ‘bad’ and losing weight is ‘good’ can be fully debunked.
Come on people, it’s 2020. The future is here! Aren’t we past fat jokes now? Can’t we see the hurt they cause? And moreover, can’t we see that fatphobia is a form of discrimination? And the worship of thinness, especially in the tabloids (again, poor Adele), keeps us thinking that this is what we should all be striving for.
For me, I’m also noticing a total lack of regard that ‘jokes’ about overeating, restrictive eating and/or binge eating could be incredibly triggering for people recovering from, or coping with, disordered eating or eating disorders.
So, why has there been such a rise in diet culture?
It comes down to people grasping at things they feel they can control in a moment of collective uncertainty within the construct of a social narrative that says we must all be shrinking ourselves to be happy.
Diet culture is so ingrained in our shared culture that even during a time of unprecedented crisis it still permeates into our behaviour.
We are sold the idea that our bodies are easy to control if we can only be disciplined enough. We are also sold the myth that there is one correct way to have a body via the beauty standard (which currently puts thin, white, able bodies at the top of the hierarchy).
We are unable to move, eat and live how we would choose to at the moment, and a lot of people are trying to counter this by creating content that gives them the illusion of control.
Make no mistake, ‘health’ is often diet culture dressed up in lycra. Today, we are meant to be striving for ‘health’, which is, let’s be honest, frequently equated with gaining the ‘perfect body’. In reality, true health is holistic and a far wider reaching concept than a number on the scales. You can be thin and unhealthy and fat and healthy. Health should also include our mental health and we know that diet culture is a shit show for that.
Every time ‘should’, ‘ought’ or ‘must’ pop up in your mind with regards to food – challenge them. Is it just your pesky inner critic beating you up? Tell that bitch to leave the room, because judgement has no place in the most stressful and challenging moment we’ve experienced in generations!
I know that putting on weight might feel like a disaster if you have a wedding coming up, but it really isn’t unless you let it take over in your mind.
What has brought me a lot of solace during this time is seeing lockdown as the ultimate collective act of love. We have stayed home to protect the people we love, to keep the key workers from being too overwhelmed and to keep ourselves safe. If you manage to have a wedding this year, don’t let any changes in your body get you down. Focus on the reasons you wanted to get married, focus on having your favourite people around you or being able to sneak off on your own…and focus on the love. Because, at the end of the day, that’s really all that matters.
How to counter diet culture coming out of COVID-19:
Continue to eat as best you can each day with what’s available. Diets may seem like they have all the answers, but research says that they don’t. 97% of dieters put the weight back on (plus more) within the first five years. Diets are also known to stress out your nervous system and emotional health. The last few months have been incredibly stressful – don’t add more stress into your life. Try and trust in your body to balance itself. Your weight may fluctuate, but this is normal and nothing to be afraid of.
Throw away your scales. Your body weight will fluctuate naturally (we all shift around 10lbs on average across the year) but nothing, I repeat NOTHING, will make you feel more shit than stepping onto the scales every day/week/month. All you’re doing is putting your happiness and mental health in a piece of metal. Free yourself from this prison by donating your scales to charity. Instead, make a daily intention to focus on how you FEEL each day. Habits such as focusing on eating more greens, drinking enough water, not boozing all the time and moving (see point below) all add up to a better picture of health than the numbers on the scales.
Move in a way that feels good. You don’t have to lose a single pound to feel better in your body, you just have to move. Set no goal apart from to get some fresh air or stretch or bust out some endorphins in your brain (kitchen dance parties totally count!). When looking at workout routines, check out the credentials of the person who is posting them – are they qualified to be teaching and/or what is their ethos? If they make you feel bad about your body, then find someone else who is judgement free.
If your wedding outfit no longer fits, don’t freak out. Just get it altered. There’s nothing worse than wearing clothes that don’t fit, and this is certainly one day you are going to want to feel comfortable. YOU HAVE NOT FAILED IF YOU’VE PUT ON WEIGHT. You’ve got through a pandemic, that’s enough.
Embrace the opportunities. Now is the perfect time to change anything about your big day that no longer feels good! You don’t have to go back to the life you used to live. Boundaries are sexy, I say it all the time. Create the life YOU want with the people that make you feel good.
Check your fatphobia. It’s not cool to judge or make fun of other people’s bodies. Your joke may be someone else’s lived experience, so call out that shit if you see it. If you’re the one who is triggered by something fatphobic, remember that you don’t have to do the emotional labour of educating someone else. Simply unfollow (or hide) that person and do something really kind for yourself.
Fill your feed with different types of content that aren’t just about food, weddings or bodies. Curate your feed to include inspiring artists, activists, animals and adventures. We are programmed to think that our bodies are the most important things about us, which is nonsense! The world is wide and there are so many more interesting things to talk about than the fucking ‘quarantine 15’.
Think about what’s in your control that’s not linked to food and your body. Just in case the world still feels bananas, there’s heaps of ways to make you feel safe. Shift your attention away from things outside of your influence – e.g. stop checking the news so much or whether it’s going to rain on your big day – and towards things you can control, e.g. volunteer in your community, create a rain-safe contingency plan or do random acts of kindness. The key to good mental health is to widen our own ‘circle of influence’ and make the outer ‘circle of concern’ smaller.
Ditch diet culture as the BS that it is. You are not solely a body and pretty is not the rent you pay to live in it. Hopefully, after this time is over we can all appreciate gaining a new perspective on some things. The world is fragile and there are so many more important things to be worried about than whether your waist is ‘trained’ (seriously, corsets belong nowhere except in the history books) or how toned your arms are. So your body looks different to how you wanted it to pre-COVID, but did you and loved ones survive? Let’s focus on that and let anything else go.
This article originally appeared in Rock n Roll Bride magazine, issue 33, which is now sold out. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss another one!
- Photography: Imogen Forte for Anti Diet Riot Club