I was minding my own business and innocently scrolling through Facebook when I saw it. Someone had posted a photo of a sumo wrestler and the words “OMG I’ve gained like 400 pounds in 4 days.” I shook my head at the image and words, shrugged, and moved on. I was hoping that this would be the only fatphobic meme I’d see online that day. I was wrong.
To my total surprise and frustration, more and more posts began pouring into my social media feed, as people joked about not being able to fit into their pants in a month, bragging about binge-eating too much cheese, or obsessively taking on the “10 Push Up” challenge like their life depended on it. For a moment, I forgot all about the global pandemic currently wreaking havoc on our world. Because right there on my computer screen, there was a collective crisis I couldn’t look away from. People seem to be scared shitless of the possibility that they will – gasp! – gain weight during their self-quarantine, and they don’t know how the hell to deal with it.
As I continued scrolling, I thought about the millions of human beings in different sized bodies who struggle daily with eating disorders. I thought about all of the people out there like me who didn’t get fat due to overeating. I thought about all of the chronically ill and disabled people who don’t have the luxury of leaving their house. And I thought about all of the poverty-stricken parents out there who don’t have time to worry about weight gain, because their biggest problem right now is finding the money to buy food for their kids and pay their bills.
So why would anyone prioritize weight loss supplements or calorie counting at a time when there is a life-altering virus spreading rapidly among us? Don’t we have more important things to worry about than our pant size? Apparently, we don’t. And I think I know why. We are understandably feeling helpless about current events that are out of our individual control, so something as seemingly innocuous as the number on a scale may feel like one of the only things many of us have the power to change at the moment. But that doesn’t mean we need to be doing it.
Back when I was a young adult struggling with severely restrictive eating, a diet pill addiction, and body dysmorphia, I wouldn’t have batted an eye at the fat jokes that pour over Thanksgiving festivities like gravy or the magazine covers that start pressuring us in February to create our best “summer bod.” I was neck-deep in self-hate at the time, and like so many of us, I didn’t see the danger in these shame-inducing messages and felt motivated to keep losing weight whenever I saw them. I also couldn’t comprehend that for many people who weren’t in a thin body like me, life didn’t necessarily come with immediate acceptance, respect, or even a basic sense of equality. Fatphobia is alive and well, and I’ve learned this the hard way after healing my eating disorder and naturally gaining a bunch of weight in motherhood.
We all know how easy it is to identify blatant discrimination when someone cracks a sexist one-liner at the Christmas party or spits out a racist slur in an argument. It is much harder to notice and call out fatphobic comments. But they are everywhere, and all they do is contribute to a culture that demonizes some of us for looking different. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of people being harshly and incorrectly judged based on their appearances.
When I started on my body-acceptance journey a few years ago, I was prepared to face some backlash for loving my fat body without needing to change it. But I wasn’t prepared for just how far people would go to tell a larger person that they are assuredly going to die from their physical condition. And now that people are actually dying from a real-life pandemic, I think I need to turn up the volume on my big ass mic before I drop it.
In case no one has offered it to you yet, here is your immediate permission to stop hustling for your worth through weight loss. You don’t need to fall in line with the diet culture masses if it comes at the cost of your mental health. So what if your favorite jeans don’t fit after this self-quarantine? Buy a new fucking pair, shake your bigger ass, and take up all the space you want. If you feel like moving your body at this time, go for it. Just know that you don’t have to do it for the sole purpose of losing weight. Take off the damn fitness tracker if it’s bumming you out, catch up on some Netflix, get fresh air when you can, and eat whatever nourishes and comforts you right now. And if you are struggling with an eating disorder that has flared up during this lockdown, please be extra gentle with yourself.
I’ve researched enough about this topic to know what to say to anyone who thinks that gaining weight during COVID-19 is a threat worse than the actual virus. And now I offer it to you. I encourage you to share this if someone is tearing you down or pressuring you to obsess over your body right now. And since society has done one hell of a job on our collective self-esteem, it’s totally understandable if that person is you.
Basically, for every study out there trying to prove that being fat is synonymous with a shorter lifespan or a lack of physical well-being, there are plenty of counter studies saying just the opposite. For instance, both thin and fat people with high blood pressure have the same fucking chances of experiencing a heart attack or stroke, and unhealthy thin people are twice as likely to develop diabetes than a healthy fat person. Also, up to 75% of those deemed “medically obese” are, in fact, metabolically healthy, and BMI has been proven to be a completely inaccurate measure of someone’s overall health.
But don’t tell the insurance companies you’ve found any of this shit out. They’re hoping we never will, so they can keep charging larger folks with higher premiums. Not to mention the “wellness” companies, diet supplement businesses, and weight loss programs that are financially preying off of our bodily insecurities – ones that they helped to create.
The annoying fucking truth is, our society is obsessed with an impossible body ideal that most cannot achieve or maintain. And there is no goddamn reason for anyone to be chasing this stupid illusion if they don’t have the ability or desire to lose weight. What’s more, it is not only a societal privilege to live in a skinny body, but our cultural idolization of it is has become a mental health epidemic far more critical than the health industry’s fake war on obesity. The National Eating Disorders Association has it all laid out on their website. They’ve discovered that our overzealous glorification of thinness is the most well-known reason millions of people develop eating disorders in their lifetime. Yet many of us are still drinking the diet culture Kool-Aid, and it seems that we’re doing it now more than ever before.
We need to stop the madness, people. We have enough going on right now. We don’t need to make more unnecessary problems for ourselves by piling on impossible expectations about our bodies. While we’re all stuck in these statewide lockdowns (and even after that), could we please stop forcing ourselves and each other to prioritize weight loss at any cost? Could we perhaps stop joking about binging on food when there are tons of people stuck inside of their homes who grapple daily with an eating disorder? And maybe, just maybe, could we all leave a little room to allow for the weight fluctuations that are as natural as any other part of being human?
Because here’s the truth: Your worth has been inside of you since day one. It cannot be found by doing the keto diet. It cannot be earned through hours of exercise. And it is not diminished because you spent all day on a couch in your dirty-ass sweats. There is nothing you need to do in order to enjoy feeling worthy other than to let go of society’s vise grip on you. So please – stay home, wash your goddamn hands, and give yourself a fucking break.