by Claire Tolman
We are all trying to figure out how to navigate a completely new world right now. As we keep social distance and try to adjust to a new routine within the confines of our homes, we may face heightened stress and insecurities. We may be experiencing changes in our eating habits, and an increase in time spent on social media, both of which are likely to make us feel more preoccupied with our bodies. It’s difficult to avoid all the jokes about the “Covid 15” (gaining 15 pounds in quarantine), which can cause shame and additional stress, especially on those who have a history of disordered eating. Sadly, these images and jokes seem to target female identified people. While these jokes seem to be lighthearted, they send the message that while the world experiences an unprecedented modern pandemic, women should really be concerned about what they look like when quarantine is over.
With heightened concerns among health professionals about eating disorders during this pandemic, it’s important to recognize the race disparity in treatment for those suffering from an eating disorder. A prevalent belief among health professionals is that eating disorders affect primarily young, underweight white women. This belief is not only untrue, but harmful. A 2011 study showed similar rates of anorexia and binging among all races and ethnicities, and a higher rate of bulimia among Black and Latinx participants. In a 2006 study, clinicians were presented with three identical case studies of a woman presenting with an eating disorder, with the only variable being the woman's race and ethnicity. Clinicians were more likely to identify an eating disorder when the woman was white or Hispanic, and far less likely when she was identified as Black. Sabrina Strings, a professor of sociology at University of California, Irvine, argues that this stigma around Black women and their bodies is embedded in racist roots of diet culture, as well as a history of negative portrayals of black women’s bodies in art, philosophy, science and medicine. People of color are also often left out of scientific studies on eating disorders, so providers don’t have the resources to provide accurate care. It’s important to understand the differences in experiences and hurdles each person faces when it comes to body image and eating disorders.
Instagram posts that encourage dramatic weight loss can also take a toll on our body image. Earlier in quarantine, I woke up to find that singer Adele had posted a picture of herself in which she had clearly lost an extreme amount of weight. The comments below the image were full of exorbitant praise for her “new body.” This immediately gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, in her book Anti-Diet, says, “applauding weight loss for anyone reinforces weight stigma for everyone.” When we celebrate and praise someone for losing weight, we indirectly shame those who have not. It’s so important to remember that we are not defined by our body shape, or a number on a scale! Health is not defined by body shape, so let’s try to move away from assumptions about someone’s health based on the way they look – especially during the whirlwind that is COVID! Remember, stress often manifests itself in our physical bodies, and a lot of us are experiencing a whole lot of stress right now! It’s ok if your body is going through some changes. Celebrating our bodies is an act of resistance against diet culture, racism, consumer culture and sexism!
If you are feeling down about your body during quarantine, you are not alone! Here are some tips for boosting your body image during this trying time.
- Unfollow what’s unhelpful! If someone is struggling (or has struggled) with an eating disorder, seeing posts online about needing to diet or jokes about gaining the “COVID 15” can be extremely harmful. It is important to maintain healthy boundaries with social media at this time, and maybe stop using it altogether if it feels toxic for you! Also, if you are feeling triggered, try talking to a trusted adult or friend. Better yet, if you don’t see a therapist, now might be a good time to get one!
- Find new, creative ways to move your body while quarantined. We need to move not because we have to, but because it makes us feel good! Even just stepping outside and getting a little fresh air can be helpful for our mental health.
- Try some daily affirmations! Get into the habit of looking in the mirror every morning and saying something you think is awesome about yourself, or keep a journal where you list or sketch all your best qualities.
Here at Response, we encourage you to honor and celebrate your body for providing you with strength and resilience during this difficult time! And please be gentle with yourself – remember, this isn’t a permanent situation, and everyone is struggling in different ways. Build some extra time into your schedule to take care of yourself. Self-care isn’t selfish!
Check out these awesome Instagram accounts that promote positive body image and fight toxic diet culture: