How Lockdown has Impacted my Body Image

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.

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On Weight, Rope and Grief for the Body I Wanted

CW: weight, weight loss, body shame, rope bondage, diet culture, food-and-diet-related abuse, bullying, abusive teachers. Please, if these topics are difficult for you, feel enormously free to skip this one.

Note: in this post when I use the word “fat” to talk about other people, I am using it as a neutral descriptive term. Using it about myself is… complicated. I am not at a place of being positive about it.

Note the Second: I DO want – solidarity, love, and encouragement that I can choose to change my body and still be feminist. I do NOT want – diet or exercise tips, urging to”find a different rigger” (more on that later), to be advised not to change my body, or to be told you find me hot unless we have already established a dynamic where that’s an okay thing.

My stomach and hips in black leggings and a purple shirt which I am lifting up. For a post on weight and rope.
Feat. my belly

I’ve only ever been “thin” twice in my life. The first time, I was fifteen and it was just the way my body was. I didn’t think I was thin at the time, of course – I thought I was huge, as most teenage girls do. But looking back, fifteen year old Amy had the body that twenty five year old Amy would have killed for. The second time was at University, when I was walking miles every day around a very hilly town and subsisting mainly off coffee, Pro Plus pills and cheap vodka.

For most of my life, my body has been what can best be described as “a few pounds over where I’d ideally like to be,” but I was rarely particularly motivated to do anything about it. I like food and (until I discovered solo, non-competitive running and tap dancing), I hated exercise. (For the value of “hated” that means “extremely deep-seated trauma as a result of horrifying abuse from fellow students and teachers, including being made to run around a track on a weak ankle until I nearly vomited.”)

I’ve been fat three times in my life. The first time was during Sixth Form, when young adulthood and increased freedom led me to eat all the things I was rarely allowed by my health-conscious parents. The second time was in 2015, after I dumped my abusive ex (more about him in a minute) and gained 4olb in six months because in my head, eating whatever I wanted was a fuck you to him. It took me two years to lose those 40lb. The third time?

Well, the third time is now.

Let me back up a minute and talk to you about my ex. He was fat when we met, and gained weight steadily over the first three years or so. Then he suddenly decided to lose it all, began to religiously count calories, and took up hardcore exercise. Unfortunately, these traits combined with an addictive/obsessive personality quickly let to what I can only describe as a raging eating-and-exercise disorder. It “worked,” in that he became thin and muscular, but the punishing regime made him miserable and with that misery, he treated me and his wife even worse than previously (which was pretty badly already, TBF.)

With these behaviours directed towards himself came greater food and exercise scrutiny directed at me. At one point, he was making me weigh myself in front of him in the morning when he slept over. Weighing less than me, a 5’4″ woman with no muscle to speak of, became a point of pride for him and a point of criticism to level at me, all at once. I once asked him why he slept with me if he didn’t like my weight, and he countered that he couldn’t afford to be picky because fat women were all he could “get”.

So when we broke up, of course I went a bit mad with freedom. I ate everything I wanted and sat on the couch as much as I wanted, with an “I DARE you to judge me” attitude. But the net result was that I gained over 40lb, as I mentioned above. Then I lost it all, with two years of calorie counting and step counting and punishing gym workouts.

Until a few months ago, when I started putting it all back on. At first it was a few pounds, then a few more, and now… now I’m almost back where I was at the end of 2015, less 5lb or so.

And I’m angry. I’m angry with my ex for putting me in the position of getting into this yo-yo cycle in the first place. I’m angry with the kids who bullied me and the teachers who abused me into such a fucked up relationship with exercise. I’m angry with myself for ruining all my hard work and getting back to where I started. I’m angry with myself that I am now even further from the body I wanted.

I’m angry that I can’t stand being hungry, because if I could just ignore the pangs then I could go on the starvation “shakes and meal bars” diet my colleague keeps trying to push on me every time this topic comes up. I’m angry at the marked difference in how I am treated in this body shape, even aware of the relatively huge amount of thin privilege I do still enjoy compared to many other folks.

But more than angry, I’m grieving. I’m grieving for the body I wanted that is now even further away than it was before. I’m grieving for the delicious meals and treats I can no longer enjoy without a painful twinge of guilt in my gut. I’m grieving for the people who used to find me attractive and now reject me and my partner because I’m a fat girl and that apparently tells them everything they need to know about us. I’m grieving for the privilege I enjoyed when I was thinner, the marked difference in everything from romantic interest to professional respect. And I’m grieving for the pretty clothes I can no longer wear, the things I can no longer do, the things I can’t even hope to do unless something changes.

An artistic drawing of a woman in a shibari chest harness. For a post on weight and rope.Rope is one of my passions. It has been for a long time. And rope is one of the things that is markedly harder for me – and for my partner, my Top and rigger – at this weight. Some of this is small things – ties that took two ropes now use three, positions I could hold when I was fitter and more flexible are now next to impossible.

We’ve been starting to explore suspension in workshop settings, and it’s wonderful and I love it. We want to explore further. Unfortunately, we discussed this at length and realised that there is no way we can safely do 1-to-1 suspension scenes at the current time. Due to physical limitations the details of which are not mine to share, if something went wrong and we had to cut the rope or get me down very quickly, there’s no way my partner could support my current weight. There would be a risk of serious injury to one or both of us.

We can still do things with a second person on hand, of course, but a lot of our best play happens in private and I would absolutely love to be able to be suspended in private. For those of you who haven’t visited us, we have a Victorian house with gorgeous high ceilings and we’ve been looking at putting a suspension hard point in one of them for exactly this purpose. But this dream will have to wait, possibly for a long time, until I can get my weight under control and back to the place I want it to be.

I am aware that “too heavy to suspend” isn’t really an objective thing. That’s not the issue here, exactly. The issue is that my current weight and my partner’s current legitimate physical limitations are not going to play nicely together – that’s no-one’s fault, but it is a reality.

I cannot express how much shame this fills me with. I feel that by letting myself get to this weight, I have failed not only myself but my partner as well. I can’t do the things I want to be able to do, and I can’t give him the things I want to be able to give him as his partner and his submissive.

And that is breaking my heart.

I have a hard road ahead of me to get my body back to where I want it to be. I want to be the particular number that has been sitting in my head for the last three years, the number that currently feels impossibly low and far away. But more than that, I want to be able to float blissfully in his ropes without anyone else needing to be around to “rescue” us if something goes wrong. I want to look in the mirror and like what I see again.

A few nights ago, my boyfriend looked at my naked body and called me beautiful. I couldn’t explain why I looked like I might cry. I hope this post goes some way to explaining it.

Heads up: this post wasn’t sponsored but I’m really spilling my guts here. If you felt inclined to buy me a coffee, I would super appreciate it. 

I Won’t Apologise For My Body Any More

Those of us who are socialised as women are taught to hate our bodies more or less from the day we’re born. If you think I’m wrong, consider that someone thought this onesie for a baby girl was a good idea. Consider that pretty much every Disney movie ever holds up “pretty” (for the value of “pretty” that equates to thin, white, young, able bodied and virginal) as the most important thing a girl can be. Consider that 40% of 10-and-11-year-old girls think they need to lose weight.

Make no mistake: self-loathing and body hatred is heaped upon us from infancy. Is there any wonder that so many of us make it to adulthood with a totally fucked up relationship with food, exercise, our bodies and our looks?

This stuff is so completely internalised and normalised that for most of us, becoming aware of it and then beginning to undo it is probably going to be a lifelong journey. We cannot love ourselves and cast off all our worries overnight. What we can do, though? What we can do, though, is stop apologising.

I will not apologise for my weight.

Spoiler for those who haven’t met me: I don’t weigh 90lb. A year and a half ago, I weighed double that number. I’ve since lost ~30lb, but that’s not what matters. I was an awesome badass with many great qualities then, and I am an awesome badass with many great qualities now.

Humans come in many shapes and sizes, and the idea that skinnier is automatically better is a great pile of steaming bullshit.

“Sorry, I used to be thinner and I’m trying to get back there” will never again fall out of my mouth when I take my clothes off in front of a lover.

I will not apologise for my scars.

My scars are part of me. They tell a story, and the ending of that story is fuck you, I survived.

If you ask nicely, I might tell you the stories behind each one. If you ask really nicely, I might even let you touch them. But don’t tell me they’re ugly, don’t pity me, don’t tell me I’d be so much prettier if only my skin were unblemished. I’m scarred because I’ve lived. Deal with it.

I will not apologise for my body hair.

If I had a pound for every person who has told me body hair is disgusting… well, I could probably quit my job and just write about sex on the internet for the rest of my life. Real talk time: body hair is natural. The notion that one must remove it all in order to be beautiful is entirely socially constructed. The idea that women must be hairless originated with razor companies trying to branch out into new markets. It’s literally the epitome of “convince us there’s something wrong with us, then sell us the cure.”

Never again will I sheepishly ask a sexual partner if they’re willing to overlook my natural hair and fuck me anyway. Never again will I apologise when someone asks me to shave it off and I tell them no.

I’m fucking beautiful and if my natural body bothers you, well… that seems like a you problem.

I will not apologise for my physical limitations.

I’m not an exercise-bunny and I’m not particularly physically strong. I have come to accept these things about myself. My body does most of the things I want it to do, most of the time.

I’ll take walks with you, but if you want a chick to scale mountains with? I’m not your girl. I’ll jog for the bus if I have to, but if you want a partner in marathons? Not me.

Similarly, my body has certain needs now, including the ones it didn’t have when I was younger. I won’t apologise for needing to sleep and no longer being able to run on fumes. I won’t apologise for needing you to maybe not fuck me as deep as you possibly can. That shit hurts. I am allowed to prioritise my own pleasure. I am entitled to not be in pain.

I will not apologise for the ways my body experiences pleasure.

I’ve probably apologised thousands of times to lovers for how hard it can be to get me off, or for the fact that my body doesn’t always perform pleasure in the most reliable and/or visually appealing and/or ego-stroking manner.

I’m not going to fake an orgasm when you ineptly go down on me for three minutes.  I’m not going to apologise when I still don’t come when you go down on me expertly for half an hour. I’ll tell you what I like and don’t like, and I’ll react in a way that feels authentic. But I’m not going to apologise if it doesn’t work in the way you think it should.

I’m done apologising for my body. My body carries me through the world and gives me – and the people who are lucky enough to share in it – astonishing pleasure. My body fucking rocks.

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