So Your Body Changed During the Pandemic

As we limp towards vaccinations here in Canada and other countries are doing the same there’s a lot of talk about weight gain or loss or whatever during the pandemic. It feels a lot like the pressure in high school to return in the fall with a completely new and “better” body. Countless silly articles about crash diets and workouts have appeared like a rash across the internet, all trying to sell you on the One Weird Trick that’ll have you emerging from the pandemic like you’ve spent the last year and a half at a yoga retreat subsiding only on kale. Even if we know these articles and the pressure is bullshit (and a blatant sales tactic), it can still impact our sense of self to experience unwanted changes in our bodies. We place a lot of value on ephemeral appearances in our culture and it’s hard to unpick that brainwashing and just exist in a place of peace with your form.

As someone who’s body has changed drastically repeatedly throughout my life and done a real number on my head at times here are my tips for getting through these feelings:

1- YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY. Your sole value is not your appearance, fuck what the internet/culture wants you to believe- your body is <2% of your value as a human. Fat people are not lesser humans. Fat bodies aren’t failed thin ones. Would you treat your friend differently if their body changed? Nope. So why treat yourself that way? Why is the standard you place on yourself less kind than what you’d place on others? These questions are worth examining in yourself to unpick bias planted by ads/culture. Most of the concepts around “good/bad” bodies are rooted in capitalism and cruelty, they are part of a deliberate system of control and shame. Change is not a moral failing- it’s inevitable. Ageing, stress, illness, etc are all part of life and inescapable. You aren’t meant to look how you do at 18 at 38 and that’s wonderful! Your body is going to change multiple times during your life in all kinds of ways, there’s no workout or diet that’ll stop that, so finding a way to make peace with yourself is vital.

2- CONSUME KINDLY. Stop googling crash diets, stop reading those bullshit articles on how to transform yourself with whatever product, stop looking at photoshopped before/afters, stop looking at instagrams of surgically enhanced influencers. Stop putting garbage into your brain to reinforce the negative feelings. Take a break from scrolling social media entirely or make a conscious effort to diversify what you follow. Add bodies of all sizes living gloriously, follow different races/genders/styles- it’s really affirming to see other people living happily in bodies our culture says should be shamed and hidden, it shatters hateful narratives. The more we normalize how wonderfully different all of us can be the more we realize we’re all the same. Don’t compare yourself to strangers online, their photoshopped highlight reels aren’t reality any more than the dragons in your favorite tv show are.

3- DON’T TALK SHIT. Resist the urge to apologize for your body when reconnecting with old friends. Talking about how “big” you got or framing larger bodies as negative things when referring to yourself is just exposing how little respect you have for others, frankly. There’s no way to call yourself “fat” as an insult without believing fat is somehow bad or wrong. And trust me, your larger bodied friends hear you say those things and they remember. If you really need to talk about your feelings about your changed body a therapist is a great start- or ask for consent before unloading on a friend (just so you aren’t making them feel worse about their own body or flat out insulting it). “Is it okay if I talk to you about the changes my body has experienced this last while?” for example. Use phrases like “I feel bloated today” instead of “I feel fat”, the words we choose when speaking to/about ourselves are important.

4- CONTEXT IS KEY. We are existing in a global pandemic during the onslaught of terrifying climate change all to the backdrop of selfish rich people launching their smug asses into the stratosphere- THESE ARE NOT NORMAL TIMES. We are all experiencing a collective trauma. Hundreds of thousands of people have died during this. People have lost their incomes, homes, and lives en masse and existing in a state of fear and uncertainty for a year plus is going to have negative impacts on your mental state. Your body might change or you might find yourself relying on bad habits you’d long abandoned just to exist. Remember that you have gotten through this, it wasn’t a vacation- it was a cessation of regular life across every aspect of existence. It’s been real bad and it’s gonna be bad for a while. If the worst thing that’s happened to you during the pandemic is some weight gain then you are LUCKY beyond measure!

5- REFRAME IT. Approaching your new body with curiosity and acceptance can fundamentally change your relationship to it. New weight means exploring new ways to dress your shape. Maybe you will lose weight when life resumes properly, maybe you won’t- either way you are still a weird structure of bones/meat animated by electricity living on a wet rock in space. Be glad you are still able to move this body, that you aren’t in an ICU bed during a pandemic fighting for your life.

I hope some of these ideas help anyone out there who’s facing some changes in their body with shame or fear. Please remember your body is FINE- as it is right now in this moment.