I’ve given up, friends – after seven months of this shit, I’m making a COVID times post. So yeah, let’s talk about this clusterfuck of a year as it pertains to body image.
TW: Body struggles, weight (no numbers), fitness, mental health, COVID-19 lockdown, calorie counting (no numbers)
Did any of us think, back in February and early March, that this pandemic was going to impact pretty much every aspect of our lives? Yet here we are. October, and still no end to any of this in sight.
A lot of things in my life have changed this year, most of them directly or tangentially COVID-influenced. And in a world where a lot of things are complicated right now, one of the things that is consistently complicated is my relationship with my body image.
Based on what I’ve read, I’m far from the only person struggling with this. I speak only for myself, but if any of this resonates with you, I want you to know you’re not alone.
The COVID weight gain
My relationship with my weight is a very uneven and complicated thing. I say this with the awareness that I possess rather a lot of thin privilege compared to many folks in larger bodies. Still, I’ve also noticed a drastic change in the way the world responds to me in this body, than the way it responded to me in the (far smaller) body I had in my early 20s.
Prior to COVID hitting, I’d lost a pretty significant amount of weight and was feeling great about it. I’ve put back on…. well, not all of it, but a significant amount. And I know this is Bad Feminist and Not Body Positive of me, but I’m not really okay with it.
The reasons are obvious. No longer walking miles every day across a sprawling University campus. No pole (more on that in a minute). Comfort eating and comfort drinking and honestly, probably just the sheer body-altering impacts of living under chronic stress and low-key terror for seven months.
Breaking up with monitoring
Prior to COVID, I spent c. 4 years dipping in and out of obsessive monitoring phases where I’d track my exercise, my food, my calories, forever chasing the damned green line that said my intake/output balance was “right” that day.
I’ve completely stopped that since lockdown began. I haven’t charged my fitness tracker in months (honestly I’m not even sure where it is at this point). I no longer weigh my food
Strangely, I’ve started to find my way back to a place of equilibrium. I came into lockdown monitoring and tracking and counting, which wasn’t good for me. That gave way to comfort-consuming whatever gave me a momentary break from the SHEER FUCKING HORROR of it all. Thing is, this wasn’t good for me either.
Cake tastes better when I eat it because I actually want it, rather than because I’ve barely slept in three days and a jolt of sugar might help me keep going. I like a G&T as much as the next person, but drinking alone night after night after night in front of a screen doesn’t make you miss your friends and your family and your fucking life any more. It just makes the loneliness worse when the inevitable crash sets in.
Through all this, I seem to have – almost accidentally – hit something approaching balance. I definitely eat more of the things I want than I did when I was counting and tracking everything. And I think that’s a good thing. But I also eat what I actually want and what my body is craving, rather than using sugar and alcohol as a coping strategy.
Goddess knows I am still far from fixing my broken relationship with food. I don’t want to imply for a second that I’ve hit some magical end point. To be honest, I suspect this will be a lifelong journey. All of us, especially women and AFAB people, live in a world that polices our bodies and our food constantly. Finding balance amidst all that? Well, it’s not just a battle you win once.
I’m trying to learn to be more gentle with myself over it all. To accept that I’ll have days when I deal with food guilt and start to slide back into my old obsessive ways. To accept that I’ll also have days where my depression tells me to just lie on the couch and eat my body weight in candy. Both are okay. Both are things I can learn to recognise and work with.
Finding ways to keep fit that feel good
When I found pole dancing in early 2019, I knew I’d finally found a means of exercise that was not only bearable, but brought me joy every time I did it. Of course, I haven’t been able to go dancing since early March (the studio only reopened a couple weeks ago, and my partner and I both feel it’s not sufficiently COVID-safe right now.)
In a world where I can’t do that, I kind of lost motivation to keep fit. It took me a while to even want to do anything else. I tried a few online workouts and didn’t really get on with any of them. The wrong level, absurdly punishing even when labelled as “for beginners”, or just accompanied by too much casual body-shaming commentary.
I was perhaps the last trying-to-keep-fit-on-the-internet person in the entire world to discover Yoga with Adriene. I’ve been working my way through her 30 day challenge for beginners. I’m certainly not going to become a “yoga fixes all things” devotee anytime soon, but I definitely feel physically stronger and mentally more grounded after doing sessions most days for the last few weeks.
What I like about Adriene is the way that she totally decouples the practice of yoga from being about changing your body. Her catchphrase/rallying cry is “find what feels good”. Even her “Yoga for Weight Loss,” which I will admit is how I first found her channel, isn’t really about weight loss.
I also stumbled across a Youtube video that convinced me of the joys of hula-hooping. I bought a hoop and have been doing 15 minutes a day in front of the TV. It’s silly and it’s playful and it’s easy to work up a sweat and feel awesome while my mind is focused on something else (in this case, reruns of Crazy Ex Girlfriend.)
All this to say that finding ways to keep fit in lockdown has been challenging, frustrating, but ultimately pretty rewarding.
Though I’ll still be much happier when I can hang upside down from a pole in just my underwear surrounded by badass women again.
Not having to get dressed up is a mixed blessing
Clothing and appearance and dressing up has always been a bit of a minefield for me. As your friendly resident #Sparklefemme, I love all things fancy and glittery and just that little bit extra. However, the combination of not having a body shape that mainstream fashion really understands, coupled with eclectic tastes and being basically broke until I was 26, means that shopping for clothes is… complex, at best.
Honestly, not having to think so much about what I’m going to wear every day has been freeing. I have pretty much worked in some combination of pyjamas, yoga pants, and oversized t-shirts every day since March, and I’m not sorry. Being able to prioritise comfort over dressing “acceptably” has been a blessing during an incredibly stressful time.
On the other hand, not having any real opportunity to get dressed up and sparkle has made me realise how much I miss it. Sure, I could don glitter at home, but it’s not worth the effort if it’s for no occasion. I’ve thought about wearing the catsuit on a Zoom call, but it just doesn’t feel joyful in the same way when it’s just me, my home office, and a grainy camera. I could put on a tight skirt, but where’s the fun if I can’t flirt with a stranger?
I like valuing my body and physicality as far more than a decoration… but sometimes I want to be fucking decorative, damnit! I’ve been kinda dealing with this by playing with nudes and taking more lingerie selfies.
One of the little but powerful self-care rituals I’ve cultivated in lockdown has been to start dying my hair again. For the last several years in jobs in which any non-natural colour was considered “unprofessional,” I’d often look in the mirror and long for my luscious purple locks of old. When I finally did it again, watching the gorgeous, vibrant colour emerge in all its glory as I blow-dried my hair, I felt like me again.
We have to find small joys and small ways to love ourselves in these times. It just happens that one of my small joys lives in a bottle of violet hair dye. I might not love my shape or my fitness level right now, but at least I can love this one little thing.
What I’m trying to say is… it’s complicated
It’s complicated and it’s many-faceted and it’s a work in progress. I have mostly come to terms, at this point, with the idea that it’s probably always going to be kind of complicated, and it’s always going to be a work in progress.
I can’t wake up one morning like “wahey, I love my body now!” If only it were that simple. Instead, it’s more likely to be a lifetime of steps forward and slips back, of progress and challenges, of days where it feels easy and days where it feels hard.
If lockdown taught me one thing about body image, it’s that body image isn’t static and it isn’t a one way journey.