From the very start of the pandemic, many Americans began joking about gaining the #Quarantine15, since they were spending so much time at home. Now, as vaccine distribution will allow for more socializing this summer—a season known for wearing less clothing—pressure is already being placed on women to come out of this pandemic with a “glow up” to show for it.
If you google “quarantine glow up,” you will be met with dozens of articles and YouTube videos geared toward women that provide a how-to guide for achieving this goal. Not only is this rhetoric shockingly tone-deaf to the massive cost of this pandemic, but it can be extremely triggering for those who struggle with eating disorders, body image issues and social anxiety.
As a society, we have endured a collective trauma. Life as we know it has completely shifted and over 550,000 American lives have been lost to Covid-19. We are not the same people we were a year ago. So what’s so wrong with the idea that our bodies may have changed along the way?
This glow-up trend can be directly correlated to unrealistic and ever-changing beauty standards that drive the health and wellness industry, which holds a global value of $4.2 trillion. Not only are these beauty standards almost impossible to meet, but they’re even harder to maintain and can lead to harmful patterns of restriction in response to negative perceptions of our outward appearance. A 2019 study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health revealed that disordered eating attitudes among college women were statistically linked to poor body image, low self-esteem and social media usage.
Between highly edited photos that portray unrealistic standards of beauty and sponsored ads for “flat tummy teas” and crash diets, social media is often challenging to navigate. But within the last decade, fat Black women have created the body positivity movement to counteract shared experiences of fatphobia via social media. However, even within this movement —there has been an exclusion of the very people this community was created for as white, thinner bodies have begun to dominate body positivity platforms.
In an October interview with Vogue, singer Lizzo, who often preaches body confidence through her music and social media accounts expressed her desire to redefine mainstream conceptions of body positivity:
“What I don’t like is how the people that this term was created for are not benefiting from it. Girls with back fat, girls with bellies that hang, girls with thighs that aren’t separated, that overlap. Girls with stretch marks. You know, girls who are in the 18-plus club,” she said.
Significant work must be done to uplift marginalized bodies and honor the creators of this movement. But as someone who has followed this community for the last few years, I will say that it has made a positive impact on my relationship with food, exercise and body image in more ways than one. But truthfully, I still have bad days when I don’t love my body. I have days when I feel the urge to restrict and count calories because of an event I have coming up or days that I avoid looking at myself in the mirror. That’s why as I head into this summer, I’m dedicating myself to body acceptance, instead.
So what does body acceptance mean? For me, most of its meaning lies in its title. When I center body acceptance, I am simply honoring my body for all it is and does for me. If I’m having a bad body image day, instead of “faking it till I make it,” I make a point to acknowledge my feelings as completely natural and valid while appreciating my body’s capabilities that allow me to do all the things I love like taking dance classes, going on long walks and getting a good night’s rest. With this mindset, I feel prepared to reject all societal pressures that suggest that my body needs to change in any way, shape or form.
So, as we hesitantly make our way through this final stretch of the pandemic and into summer, I propose we make a commitment to ourselves to not give into predatory narratives of glow-ups, cleanses, and diets and shift our attention to what really matters.
Instead of stressing about a pair of shorts that didn’t fit so snug last summer, go out and buy a new pair of shorts that make you feel confident (remember clothes are made to fit your body, not the other way around), and wear them out to lunch with a friend that you haven’t seen in person since the pandemic started.
If you hate running but constantly force yourself to do it because that’s what you’ve been told works best for weight loss, start exploring different types of movement and exercise that you genuinely enjoy.
Lastly, I strongly encourage you to make a list of all the things you’re looking forward to doing when it is safe to do so. Maybe it’s going on a family vacation or attending a concert. Once you do this, take a long look at your list and you’ll probably notice that none of your wishes have anything to do with your appearance. What a surprise!
If there’s anything that we learned in the last year, it’s that life is not promised. So go out (safely) and celebrate it! You deserve everything that this world has to offer, so please know that what you have to offer is more than enough.