How Pandemic Lockdown May Make You More Susceptible to Body Shaming … and What You Can Do About It

How Pandemic Lockdown May Make You More Susceptible to Body Shaming … and What You Can Do About It

We are now several weeks into the “new norm” that COVID-19 has quickly ushered us into. Working from home. Parenting from home. Teaching from home. Worshipping from home. All the things from home.

As part of this new norm, I’ve found myself (like many others) consuming a lot of media, and I feel like I’ve been bombarded with “how to lose weight while at home” ads, workout programs promising to “give you the body you always wanted in 30 days”, and “eat this not that” articles.

Perhaps you also have seen…

  • Ads marketing various fitness apps for free during the pandemic
  • COVID-19 memes about weight gain, calling it the COVID-19 gain
  • Commercials for weight loss systems
  • Articles suggesting you use this time to get your body ready for summer or the beach

In response to this blitz, I remind myself of the need to be a discerning consumer of the various diet and fitness industry messages.

Although they cloak themselves in “health and wellness,” often the messaging is a very subtle, gaslighting that … you are not OK and that you can’t be OK unless you use their product.

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation, rooted in emotional abuse that is used to make a person question reality, deny their truth, and can contribute to a person struggling with their sense of self and self-esteem.

Our western culture elevates the status and image of the “perfect body” as thin, sleek, trim and muscular. Often this “perfect body” is touted as THE “healthy body”. The ads we see, the models in the ads, and even the various movies and TV shows we watch sell us this idealized image. In actuality, healthy bodies come in various types, sizes and shapes.

Why do companies want to sell the “perfect body” now?

We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Most of us are struggling with fear about the uncertainty and the feeling that we have very little control over our lives. The diet and fitness culture is tapping into our desire to have more control by suggesting that we control what we eat, how we move our body, and that we can pursue hope and happiness through changing our body. And I’m over it.

“Losing weight is good, and gaining weight is bad” is a very black and white perspective. Such beliefs can prompt the development of an eating disorder or contribute to a relapse in disordered eating and exercise behaviors. The diet industry often uses this black and white thinking to subtly suggest “you don’t want to gain weight right now” and that if you are gaining weight, you are not responding to this crisis well.

So, what do we do?

Here are a few tips that we can use to fend off these messages:

1. Be mindful of what information you are consuming.

Rather than focus on what you’re eating, watch what social media, advertising, books and articles that you are reading, viewing, consuming.

Remember, the diet culture sells. It plants the idea that you are not okay, and to be okay it suggests that you purchase this diet plan, try this workout plan, purchase this equipment, download this app.

Watch out for messaging that suggests this is the perfect time (during a global pandemic) to try a fad diet, buy indoor exercise equipment, purchase a subscription.

2. Honor your hunger.

If you are hungry, eat something. Remember the rule of three: three meals a day, three to four hours apart, and up to three snacks a day.

3. Practice body acceptance and compassion.

We are living during a pandemic. Surely, we are experiencing extraordinary stress. We do not need to heap on extra stress by worrying about losing weight.

  • Recognize that health comes in any and every size.
  • Be kind to your body.
  • Recognize that we may not always feel okay in our body, but we can still choose to be okay through the lens we see ourselves through.

Check your lens. If you are viewing yourself from the lens of comparing, you will lose but if you can step into compassion, consideration, and affirm yourself and your body. You can change the narrative and how you feel.

4. Dress for joy and comfort.

Don’t wait until you “lose weight” to wear the clothing you want to. Wear clothing you enjoy, clothing you are comfortable in. Put it on now.

5. Move your body to move your body.

Go for a walk or hike to be out in nature and out of your home. Turn the music up loud and have a dance party with your children or partner. Don’t exercise under the notion that you “have to”. Do it because you want to!

6. Practice gratitude.

Our body is so much more than its appearance, shape and size. Be grateful that we can move, that we have a brain that can think, eyes that can see, ears that can hear, etc.

When we practice gratitude, we can change the way we think and feel. We place less emphasize on how we look and more on appreciation for all we are able to do and experience in our bodies.

7. Finally, choose the conversations you engage in.

Conversations can be triggering. Ditch the diet talk and assert your response that you aren’t willing to participate in it. For example, if your partner starts to say, “I’ve eaten too much today. I need to go for a run,” gently remind them that you don’t want to engage in any diet culture or shaming conversations.

The meme jokes warning against COVID-19 weight gain have been circling the internet over the last few months. They may seem innocent and may offer a laugh. However, they are rooted in non-acceptance, shaming and perpetuate an idea of “fat phobia”, that gaining weight is a “bad” thing.

This COVID-19 crisis will end. However, your relationship with your body will last for your entire life. So take this time to nurture yourself and care for your body and mind. Step into the freedom that you can accept and affirm your body!

Kelly Boprie, LMSW, is a clinician at the Pine Rest Southwest Clinic and is available through teletherapy during the current stay at home order.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology from Calvin College in 2005 and her Masters in Social Work from Grand Valley State University in 2009. Kelly aims to create a safe, supportive, empathic and validating environment for the clients that she sees. She is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) and works with clients who struggle with various eating disorders and body image concerns.


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