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Mental Health

Diet Culture & COVID-19: Loving Your Body in a Crisis

By the second week of quarantine in March, it seemed like every Tik Tok I scrolled past was another teenage girl breathing heavily and doing crunches on her bedroom floor, following along with Chloe Ting’s Two Weeks Shred Challenge. To avoid what some have called the “Quarantine 15,” many, especially young womxn, have taken measures to lose weight including intense workouts and eating healthier meals. At a glance, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to lose weight. The problem here is the immense pressure to do so in a pandemic, which can lead to unhealthy habits. 

Since March, people have viewed all the free time that everyone has as an opportunity to focus on health. For a lot of people, including young womxn, health is seen as merely diet and exercise.  There’s a lot of pressure to be physically perfect these days, especially when most people’s sole form of contact is online, although most of those moments online are fabricated to be perfect. As a result, Chloe Ting’s workout challenges became a trend, home fitness platforms like Obé grew immensely, and fad diets and low-calorie meals took over dinner tables. Standing alone, each of these is healthy, but the context of these being forced on people during a pandemic tells a more complex story. 

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In a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health is an issue that many people and womxn struggle with, but neglect to see as a part of their general health. The added pressure from social media, family, and friends to “get fit” neglects mental health, and can lead to young womxn not giving themselves enough grace. Many have turned their lack of control in this situation into a control over food and exercise. With the chaos of COVID-19 plus the added pressure to use this time for fitness, young womxn have begun working out excessively, restricting food, and not eating enough-- all of which are behaviors of disordered eating. Even if a person does not engage in these behaviors, the added pressure to do so causes people to criticize their bodies more and more (as if we don’t criticize ourselves enough already), as it seems that everyone else is losing weight. 

On every family Zoom call, it seems like every aunt, uncle, and cousin tries to one-up each other on how many miles they run a week or the new diets they’re on. Not only is the pressure to be fit affecting young womxn, it’s affecting almost everyone. As a result, comparing ourselves to each other seems like it’s simply a part of our culture now. 

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To combat that, slowly learning to appreciate your body can go a long way. Instead of criticizing your legs or stomach in the mirror, remind yourself of how those body parts love you, so you can learn to love them. For example, telling yourself that, “my legs are amazing because they help me move,” or “I love my stomach because it holds the food I nourish myself with,” can slowly help you learn to love the parts of yourself that the Internet or social media might tell us need to be smaller. Big, medium, small, whatever, our bodies move us, heal us, help us, and love us. Spending a little less time on Tik Tok and social media wouldn’t hurt either. 

It’s impossible to look in the mirror one day and all of a sudden pretend that you like every single part of yourself. Slowly but surely though, taking little moments every day to appreciate your body, even though it may feel weird, can change the way that you think about yourself in every aspect. 

[bf_image id="q2wioz-cdl1mg-6fr290"] A calorie will no longer be a restriction, but a form of energy. A stomach roll won’t be an eyesore, but a reminder that you’re human and natural. A brownie won’t be off limits, but a sign of listening to your body. A look in the mirror won’t be dreadful, but a reminder of self-love. Your body won’t be just a number on a scale, it will be the vessel that holds all of the amazing things that make you, you.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Photos: Her Campus Media Library

Sana Mamtaney (she/her) is a third-year student at American University studying journalism and political science. She loves writing about social justice issues and how they affect our daily lives. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, watching reality TV, and listening to Hozier and One Direction.
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