Like so many other people, I have gained weight during quarantine. To be honest, I started quarantine weighing less than I usually do for various reasons not related to intentional dieting. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, and it can be difficult to control. When it’s under control, my weight plummets. When it gets worse, my weight climbs. For me, pregnancy always resulted in dramatic weight loss because during pregnancy, PCOS is not a factor. (It’s almost like weight is complicated, and fat people shouldn’t be constantly told that all we have to do is eat a salad!)
Anyway, when COVID hit, I was at a lower weight that I’d been in years because I had a newborn. I was struggling with my feelings about that weight loss.
Frustratingly, it made me feel more valuable and beautiful to be smaller.
It’s not that I don’t want my body to ever be smaller; I lost weight naturally as a result of my life’s circumstances, and my body is entitled to change as my life changes. And it’s not that I particularly want to be fat.
It’s just that I have been working hard for years now to disconnect my weight from my worth, and I was struggling not to go back. The thing is, if I let myself feel MORE beautiful, valuable, valid and worthy when I lose weight, then I will almost certainly feel LESS beautiful, valuable, valid and worthy if I gain it back. I can’t afford to let my weight determine how much I appreciate my body. I will end up devastated again.
For an entire year, my family has been as careful as we possibly can be about COVID. That means, we have been home almost all the time. I’ve been focusing on a lot of things this year; my body size is not one of them. For various reasons, my weight has changed. I am heavier than I was a year ago. I am back to my usual size.
I grew up immersed in diet culture like everyone else, and I would be lying if I said that watching the scale climb back up a bit wasn’t initially kind of disappointing. It was. Every pound of gained weight was one more step away from thinness, the “ideal.” But I didn’t stay in that place of comparison and disappointment because that’s not where I live anymore.
I am here to tell you that working hard to stop associating my body’s size with my value as a human being has been one million percent worth it.
Because I have worked hard to unpack my feelings about my body, I understand that I carry scars from childhood experiences that influence how I feel about my body. It’s important for me to recognize that my body was good back then when people told me it wasn’t, and it’s still good now, regardless of what I’ve been programmed to think.
I know that in the past, I have associated the feeling of an empty stomach with morality. The longer I felt hungry, the “better” I was as a person, and especially as a woman. That kind of thinking is harmful and unhealthy. It’s important for me to remind myself that hunger is my body’s sign that it needs food, and even fat people need and deserve to eat when they’re hungry. (And during a pandemic, the ability to respond to your hunger cues is only a short walk to kitchen away. It’s normal to meet that need more readily than you did when you were on the go.)
I know that hearing constant negative messages about fat bodies and my body specifically has made me afraid to gain weight, worried that I will be perceived as a failure, a slob or ugly. It’s important for me to remember that my success and my beauty don’t depend on my ability to shrink my body to fit an ideal that is ever-changing and unattainable for almost everyone.
Two weeks ago, I had to see my doctor for a non-weight-related issue.
When the nurse called my name, I asked her if we could skip the scale that day. I knew I had gained weight since the last visit, and I just didn’t want to address it on a day that I was already so anxious about my health. She agreed.
When I got in to see my doctor, she asked how I was doing, examined me, and checked on how I was managing my anxiety disorder. She didn’t mention my weight. I brought it up, starting to explain why I didn’t want to step on the scale that day.
She held up her hand and gently said, “Stop. Don’t explain yourself. I’m not worried about your weight today. You don’t smoke, drink, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. You have three kids, and you’ve been home with them for a year. If you came in here with a health concern and started telling me about your diet, I would tell you to immediately stop worrying about that. Let yourself handle one thing at a time. If you want to lose weight, you can do that when your life is a little more normal. For now, let’s focus on other things.”
See? Accepting the changes in your body during an unprecedented experience is not just a good idea — it’s doctor’s orders.
If you have put on a few pandemic pounds, you are far from alone — and you deserve to give yourself a heaping spoonful of grace. There is so much freedom in seeing your body as a dynamic living organism, one that can and does adapt to the circumstances you are living.
Your changing body is proof that you are alive! So, you’ve gained weight. Who cares? Your fuller body is not evidence of your weakness or failure — it’s proof that even in a global health emergency, you nourished your body. So many cherished, beautiful loved ones are missing from us now, lost to this virus that has killed more than two-and-a-half-million people all over the world.
But you’re still here. It’s okay if there is a little bit more YOU on the planet than there was a year ago.
And I’m grateful to be able to say that I know it’s okay that there’s a little more ME, too.
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