Body Image During a Pandemic: What I've Learned

It’s a Sunday night and I’m mindlessly scrolling down my Twitter timeline. Among a variety of pop culture propaganda and current hot topics in Puerto Rico, I come across a picture of two stocky, but otherwise physically fit, men. The tweet says: I prefer this over abs any day. For a moment, I pause. It’s certainly not the first time I see such a post. These posts frequently pop up on the feed of my social media, always with similar commentary and featuring men that, if not for the apparent lack of “abs”, are fitter than the average person.

I stand up and stare at my soft abdomen in the mirror, noticing my seemingly permanent love handles. I look back at the post. If these men are considered heavier than stereotypically fit men, where do I fit in that spectrum?

For the first time, I start wondering if I have a body image issue. The isolation caused by the covid-19 global pandemic has opened a window for me to hang out with myself. While it has helped me deal with a lot, it has brought out feelings that would’ve been otherwise drowned out by the noise of everyday life. Feelings of insecurities, a realization that I am a human  condemned to always be perceived by others.

I lie down back in bed and continue scrolling down my timeline. I’ve always been not totally confident with my body. Recognizably, I’m just an average person with an average diet and an average workout regime. But, the image we have of ourselves is always bombarded by outside standards, making the act of embracing our bodies feel like a chore we have to constantly do or else run the risk of these standards becoming detrimental to ourselves .

Fortunately, I can say that the issues I have with how I look have never developed into anything beyond just an acknowledgement that I’m not the fittest person around. But, when I see these posts upholding physically fit men because they lack abs or are huskier than usual “hunks”, I wonder if my body image could become an issue. This leads me to think: Is this how body image disorders start, by small negative thoughts piling until they become too loud to ignore? If I’m having these thoughts with my average body, how must people who are “worse” than me feel?

My mind continues to wander. Who’s to blame for this? Is it me for not having a “desirable” body? Is it the men in the picture for having a “desirable” body, inadvertently contributing to social standards? Or is it the person who seems to be reinforcing these standards by saying that they prefer these fit men over ones with “abs”?

Truth is, there’s really no one to blame here. It’s not about me, it’s about people’s perception of me. No matter how I look, there’s always going to be someone who looks “better” than me. There’s no point in comparing myself to others because I’m not supposed to be like others. I’m supposed to be me.

People will always have their opinions of how others look or should look, and that’s not our problem. Good for them, even, for knowing what they do and don’t like. Although I do recognize this, it does get hard sometimes. There are days where I just don’t want anyone to look at me, to exist only in the abstract. But what matters most is our health and that we feel secure about ourselves, regardless of how we look. Whoever has an issue with that, it’s not our responsibility to deal with it.