COVID-19 & Fat Phobia
I’m having a hard time writing this. I’m sad, angry, disappointed, overwhelmed. Amid these emotions, I’m struggling to find room for eloquent words and a positive twist on this column. I find myself just wanting to vent all the thoughts I’ve been having and feeling out for weeks now out through my fingers and keyboard and onto this page for all to read about COVID-19 and fat shaming.
The internet has never been a friendly place for fat people. The media in general is not kind to those of us with bigger bodies. To be frank, the world isn’t either.
In many ways, social isolation due to COVID-19 is bringing out the best in people: we’re seeing folks willing to put aside their normal activities in order to “flatten the curve” and protect the elderly and otherwise compromised communities, we’re seeing artists create beautiful and inspiring work online, we’re witnessing as people reach out to neighbors and friends to help provide care. But unfortunately, the COVID-19 is also magnifying a lot of the judgments and prejudices that already exist in society and increasing fat shaming.
It was not long after social isolation began that my social media became inundated with folks talking about their “quaran-fifteen” weight gain and posting memes about gaining weight or becoming fat during the time at home.
I understand the need for levity during this time but I’m so tired of seeing fat people becoming the butt of jokes. I’m so tired of it being the norm for thin people to openly voice their concerns about gaining weight. I’m so tired of being told, even indirectly, that people don’t want to look like me.
Here’s the reality. We as a nation, as a world even, are experiencing something completely out of our realm of normalcy. We’re under unsurmounted stress like we’ve not faced before. People have lost jobs, are struggling to get unemployment, and are considering what our economy will look like long-term. People are grappling with the reality of death on a daily basis as various news sources report the ever-increasing tallies. People are scared for their families, their friends, themselves. We’re navigating new norms of working from home, or of attempting to homeschool children, of having little human interaction, or of interacting with the world in ways we’ve never done before.
Bottom line – this is hard. This is stressful.
When stressed our bodies react. Our cortisol levels rise. When the amount of cortisol in our bodies changes, so does the way our body regulates our blood sugar, metabolism, inflammatory response, and more. Our digestion can be impacted, as well as our sleep.
We also look for ways to cope. For some people that means long baths with peaceful music. For others it means a glass of wine at night, and for others still it means comfort foods.
These are all normal responses to a stressful situation.
And you know what else is a normal thing? Changes in the body. Weight gain, weight loss, fluctuation between the two. Even when not in a pandemic these are normal and not things to be shamed about or scared of.
We are already under enough stress and pressure as it is – does one really need to add to that the pressure to maintain the exact same body type as when not stressed? The pressure to look the way that society deems acceptable and desirable? The pressure to meet beauty standards that are messed up to begin with?
Alongside the fat-shaming memes and posts I see those of women joking about abandoning bras and make-up. Why can we abandon those things but still feel the continued pressure to be thin, to not get fat, as if it is some sort of sin or failure? Why can’t we also abandon the self-deprecation, the fatphobia, the expectations that our bodies should be cookie-cutter shapes of beauty?
Why not, instead, celebrate our bodies and all they are doing for us right now?
Our bodies are holding and processing stress. Our bodies are holding frightened children and defeated-feeling partners. Our bodies are showing up for friends – on Zoom, on the phone, or with a bag of groceries left on a porch. Our bodies are learning the new skills involved in working from home. Our bodies are baking bread for the first time, grocery shopping under pressure, sewing masks, staying up late reading news articles, walking the dog, teaching teenagers math.
So what if our bodies are carrying a different amount of weight than they were two months ago? They are carrying us through each day. For that, instead of being mocked or shamed, our bodies should be celebrated.