Am I Doing Enough?: How Quarantine Affects Body Image
Social media in the quarantined age seems to solely consist of people posting their freshly baked bread, favorite DIY crafts, and agonizing daily walks with dad. In this time of severe distress, platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have transformed into a productivity competition between users wanting to make the most of their time on lockdown. While many of these posts are harmless, one type is certainly not: those regarding extreme weight loss or gain as a result of quarantine.
Yes, with all that is going on in the world, standards for beauty, weight, and diet have remained as unattainable and dangerous as ever. Quarantine, it seems, has actually increased the amount of body-focused content online. Users are either posting about the new diets and workouts they are using to come out of lockdown with a six pack, or are complaining about their binge eating habits and gain of what some have coined the “quarantine 15.”
But what about quarantine is causing this sudden uptick in posts which both reflect and incite poor body image?
Head of the Health Department Bridget Londay believes this new focus on weight is due to the fact that “people are under a lot of stress and they are trying to have control over some part of their life.” This need for control during such a chaotic period is taking other forms as well; many adults have turned to other unhealthy coping mechanisms for similar reasons.
This online pressure to either lose or gain weight most obviously affects those with eating disorders, who may already be struggling with this new mode of living.
Willa Goldstein (‘20)—who leads Body Image Club along with Apple Lydon (‘21) and Grace Enger (‘20)—said, “Food shortages can cause a lot of anxiety for people with body image issues. Having an abundance of food in the house can also be a stresser for those struggling. It’s a break in routine.”
It’s safe to say that everyone, not just those who have suffered from poor body image or eating disorders in the past, is currently grappling with the “break in routine” Willa mentioned.
Josh Epstein (‘20) noted: “Personally, it feels depressing not being able to be active or eat a normal diet. When your sleep schedule is messed up and you don’t exercise, hunger is less predictable and harder to control.”
This endeavor to stay both mentally and physically healthy while stuck at home is made no easier by the onslaught of body related posts on public platforms, and social media’s role in this issue must not be undervalued. Apps like TikTok are known to favor users who fit conventional beauty standards, algorithmically pushing them to get more views on the For You Page. Scrolling through the app, it’s almost impossible to not doubt oneself when every person represented is fit and gorgeous.
Alex Smith (‘21) divulged, “My conceptions of what a body is supposed to look like is more formed by social media platforms than anything else. And, because I don’t meet all the standards shown, it’s easy to feel that where I am physically is not where I should be to feel attractive or accepted.”
Similarly, Simone Menard-Irvine (‘21) professed, “Every single time I go on my phone I feel like my self-esteem decreases. Even if I see a photo of someone who doesn’t even remotely look like me, I’m like, ‘why don’t I look like that?’”
Social media apps, like the ones Alex and Simone are referring to, make it easier than ever for users to publish their workout routines and diets for the world to see; while the poster might think these are helpful tips, they are actually contributing to a guilt culture about not doing enough while in quarantine.
An anonymous student shared: “I don’t like the sense of shame that exists around people who aren’t ‘being productive.’ Seeing friends working out or staying active makes me feel guilty for not doing the same.”
Charlotte Strickland (‘20) echoed this sentiment, saying, “when people post a lot about working out on social media, it creates a weird pressure around feeling like you have to work out.”
So how can we stay connected while still protecting our personal body image and mental health? What should we actually be doing to stay active and healthy during this period?
“Work out because you feel the need to move energy through you and because it will provide stress relief. If you want to eat healthy, do it because you want to feel good and energized. Don’t beat yourself up,” suggested Grace.
“What I’m encouraging people to do is find balance. Eating foods that make your body feel good and trying to move on a regular basis,” stated Ms. Londay.
This “balance” also applies to social media. If an app is not making you feel good about yourself, delete it for a day and see what happens. In fact, without the looming presence of social media, this time alone might actually be constructive in terms of body image and self-confidence.
“Right now we are almost completely isolated from people our age, the people we normally compare ourselves to. This means that we really are only left with ourselves with nothing external to impress or satisfy. I think it can be freeing and in some ways it lets you see yourself in a different light” offered Lucy Bernstein (‘20).
For further resources and help, eating disorder hotlines such as NEDA are dually continuing their regular services and offering tips for staying healthy and safe during quarantine. Activists like Jameela Jamil and blogger Lindsey Hall are providing personal accounts and advice on coping with an eating disorder along with reminders that eating “norms” online are often damaging and incorrect.
In a recent Instagram post, Jamil wrote: “We don’t need to come out of this thin, we need to come out of this alive. That’s our only job.”
Within Packer’s own community, our Health department and nurses are still available via Zoom for students who need help. The Body Image Club is additionally planning a virtual Zoom meeting for those needing to vent about this and other body-image-related topics.
Ultimately, people need to be given the space and time to cope with quarantine in whatever way best suits their mental and physical wellbeing, whether that includes baking brownies every night, meditating, or curling up with a good movie. It’s also important to remember that so many members of our community are struggling with issues of self-confidence, body image, and happiness during quarantine. You are not alone in these thoughts and feelings.
As Grace put it, “Make sure you’re doing things because they are making you happy…not because TikTok told you they are normal.”