Phones all over the country lit up when Boris Johnson announced his roadmap out of lockdown on Monday. As the Prime Minister made his proposed plan to lift all restrictions on 21 June official, the excitement and relief spilt over onto social media and flooded our feeds in an instant. People began eagerly planning what they’ll wear to the club, and when they’ll meet up with family for BBQs and beers. But among the buzz and anticipation for boozy summer days, a negative shadow loomed.
Log onto any social media platform this week and you’ll be greeted with a myriad of posts that reference "lockdown weight-gain" and the need to get a "summer body" in time for restrictions to be lifted. Most of us have seen the 'fat Barbie with three chins' meme that has been shared on social media far too many times in the past 48 hours, simultaneously applying pressure to the masses to lose weight and centring fat bodies as the butt of the cruel joke.
The largely fat-phobic posts that have been shared across social media may seem light-hearted to some, but in reality they can be hugely problematic. The dominating conversation focussing on weight-loss has infiltrated the minds of many young women, who are now obsessing over getting their bodies 'ready' for '#HotGirlSummer'. Gemma*, 23, tells me that she booked in with a personal trainer almost immediately after the roadmap was announced. Danni, also 23, admitted she downloaded a calorie counting app after her friends all declared they were about to begin diets in time for the summer.
"This past year I’ve felt the worst about myself I ever have," says Gemma, who adds that thinking about her appearance has kept her up at night.
"The surge of 'losing weight for June' posts are unsurprising to me, because it’s followed a whole year of people sharing how bad they feel about their lockdown bodies, and talking about how skinny they’re going get after lockdown. I used to enjoy going to the gym and doing exercise, and I think I’ll still enjoy it when I go back, but I also feel a lot of pressure to get fit and 'in shape' for the summer," she shares. "It’s ingrained in me that the more I weigh, the worse I look, and the worse I am as a person."
What Gemma is feeling is sadly not a unique experience; it's something psychologist and therapist Şirin Atçeken has noticed among her clients. "This lockdown has been hard for everyone, and it has exacerbated mental health issues," she tells me. "It can be dangerous when we associate health with weight, and also when we try to lose weight in a short amount of time. We can do more harm than good to our body, and it can lead to eating disorders," the expert says.
Another popular post doing the rounds this week features a photograph of a plate of ice cubes with the words, "My diet between now and the 21st of June" written above it. It might raise a chuckle, but it goes without saying that in the wrong hands, an image like this - one that promotes restrictive eating - could be incredibly triggering.
Danni is in recovery from an eating disorder, and although she's excited about the prospect of lockdown lifting, she confessed how difficult she's found the past couple of days. Monday’s announcement and the subsequent weight-loss discourse has made her slip back into body-negative thinking. "Multiple friends have mentioned weight they've gained, or plans to diet with the approaching lifting of restrictions. It's an unavoidable conversation topic with those unaware of my ED right now," she tells me.
"Calorie counting is a major trigger for me, and everyone else around me being on a diet really affects me," she adds. "The posts and conversations have affected me, a recovering ED sufferer, so how will those in worse mental states feel? It's damaging and worrisome."
The feeling of having a 'deadline' for a 'post-lockdown glow-up' is something that's applying pressure - both conscious and subconscious - to plenty of women. Kat, 22, suffers from body dysmorphia, and she's found herself being directly affected by the conversations on weight loss that have been rife this week. "I've been calculating how much I have to lose each week to make sure I lose 'enough' by 21 June," she admits. "It sickens me and it’s kind of embarrassing. I feel like I want to do everything I can to not be repulsed by my body, but in my mind that means I have to lose weight.
"Having this date shoved in my face like it’s a deadline isn’t helpful. The idea that we all need to be looking like our best selves by June is so frustrating because it’s just an extension of the narrative of getting ripped for summer," she adds. "People want to be their best selves when they come out of lockdown, but being thinner doesn’t mean you’re better, or more beautiful – I think society has just taught us that weight loss is a way to better yourself."
It might sound easier said than done, but the first step to unpicking ingrained, damaging beliefs like this is to go a bit easier on yourself. "It’s ok to come out of this lockdown a little heavier than when you went in," reminds psychologist Şirin. "Take solace in the fact that you aren’t the only one. We aren’t as active as we were, we are all exhausted, and we have very different priorities."
To continue building on your self-esteem and avoid fixating on losing weight before June hits, Şirin advises a couple of things. "Limit screen time," she suggests. "Phones and computers have become even more part of our daily lives, and it is destructive. Switch them off, turn off notifications and put them away for set times during the week. Replace them with reading, or tapping into your creativity." There's science to back up this theory, too. "When we do something creative, the body releases endorphins and our serotonin levels increase making us happier. Creative people are proven to have more grey matter and naturally higher levels of serotonin. When we are creative, we see things differently, and are more accepting of things around us," says the psychologist.
And what else? "Celebrate yourself," urges Şirin. "Spend 10-15 minutes a day focusing on all the amazing things that you are as an individual, and everything that you have achieved over lockdown and how you have managed to demonstrate how capable you are. Keep it by your desk, on you as a person so you can use it for an instant confidence boost when you need it."
It's sad that so many people will now have found themselves in a panic to lose weight before restrictions are eased, and it says so much about the impact of societal pressures around supposed beauty ideals. We've all just been through the toughest year we have ever known, so why don’t we be a bit gentler on ourselves? We don’t need to rush to change our bodies. Let’s celebrate how far we have come instead.
*Name has been changed
If you're struggling with poor body image or disordered eating, call Beat's helpline on 0808 801 0677 or visit their website to seek help and advice. Beat is the UK's leading charity dedicated to helping people with eating disorders.
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