Self-love. Two simple words, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. From brands selling expensive candles in the name of self-care, to Instagram accounts of thin women informing us we should ‘love our bodies’, self-love has become something marketed to us – an arm of capitalism. When loving yourself becomes something inaccessible, something has gone very wrong.
Whatever body you exist in, I am sure you have seen the foundations of your love and care for yourself challenged or called into question over the past few months. During the pandemic, we have been confined in a way that many of us have never before. Not only has social contact been limited, movement has also. Movement is integral to many of our mental health routines, and it is understandable if you felt scared and stifled about what this may mean for your body.
I thought throughout lockdown about the situation within the world, and how we would explain it to an alien or someone from the past. An unseen presence threatens the lives of us and our loved ones, and many respond with 7am workout classes, extensive lists of how to ‘make the most of quarantine’, whilst anxiously baking more banana bread than any of us really need. There is nothing wrong with these approaches, but if ‘comparison is the thief of joy’, then existing within four walls, with only the highlights of social media to keep you company, is sure to leave you feeling disheartened.
Firstly, it is important that we understand why we feel this pull toward panic over our bodies. What is it about the world we live that instead of reacting to a pandemic by thinking ‘I am going to protect and care for myself as best I can under the circumstances’, instead we think: ‘I am going to leave this having learnt to play an instrument, speak a new language and completely changed my body’? The answer is nuanced, but capitalism is at its core. I won’t attempt to educate on capitalism, as many reading this will be aware of the pressure of productivity. However, it is important to acknowledge that this drive for productivity has collided during this time with pressure for our bodies to look a certain way.
This pressure for our bodies to change or maintain a state they held when the world looked different, was compounded for some when memes began surfacing early lockdown. Usually, these would depict someone of a larger body eating or looking sad, with the caption, ‘me coming out of lockdown’. The people in these images are never depicted as freely living or liberated, are they? Imagine the pressure of not only existing in a marginalised body, but then having to face a pandemic where bodies of a smaller size are using your appearance as a joke and a motivation. It is an unfortunate sign of the world we live in that, in a global pandemic, we cannot simply exist.
I decided early on in lockdown to begin interrogating this pressure, through conversations with others, and investigating my relationship with my body.
Whilst it is important to acknowledge that I shop in mainstream sizing, I lost a lot of weight in my early teens. Many young people, particularly young women, struggle with dysmorphia, and the world we live in capitalises on that. Just think, what would selling a product, that of bodily ‘perfection’ to an often-unattainable goal, mean for a company? Customers for life, and customers who come to the brand younger and younger due to social media.
So when these memes began to surface, I looked at my body once more, ten years on from when things got bad. I had recovered, I felt somewhat larger and softer, but had come to a place where these words didn’t scare me anymore. I looked around me at the people I love and the way they so often try to shrink themselves, and I realised once more that taking up space may not be a bad thing. It may even be a statement I and others could make, simply by virtue of existing within a world which tries to contort us.
So, if you have felt this pressure during lockdown and are nervous about now facing a future with a body you feel unsure of, regardless of what body you have, I have compiled a list of tips which may help you feel more accepting of yourself.

  1. Surround yourself with healthy discussion around food and bodies.

Expose yourself to discussion, if you feel able. I like to do this whilst eating dinner or on a
walk. Some I have loved are the books
Happy Fat by Sofie Hagen and Eat Up! By Ruby
Tandoh. Podcasts are also great, and I am currently enjoying ‘Hoovering’ by Jessica Fosteskew, in which Jess and a guest discuss their relationship with food, exercise and bodies, whilst eating together.

  1. Expose yourself to different body types.

I have come to love the YouTube channel ‘Stylelikeu’, on which participants speak on different questions whilst removing layers of clothing. It’s a beautiful exploration of how style is more than the clothes we wear, but that those clothes can be a powerful tool in expressing who we are. Naomi Shimada and Lizzo both have wonderful episodes.

  1. Diversity your social media feeds.

It is easy to forget that our social media belongs to us. You do not owe a difficult or triggering person your time or your follow, and anyone who will not understand this is not someone to follow anyway. I also recommend having a second Instagram where you follow only accounts that make you happy- whether that is books, baking, tiny animals, affirming quotes and poems, or the world of ASMR.

  1. Be kind to yourself.

None of us are separate from the world around us, a world which, to differing extents relative to privilege, aims to squash us into a narrow and often impossible mould. Once we realise this, we can begin asking ourselves the important questions of what we actually want. A good starting point in your relationship with your body is to tell yourself that however you feel, you are allowed to feel this way. There is no right way to do a pandemic- there is not really any means of doing, only being and surviving, through and beyond this.

  1. Hold your body.

It may sound strange, but in Happy Fat, Sofie Hagen periodically invites the reader to hold their stomach, as a way of comforting themselves. Depending on where you are with your relationship to your body, this can be difficult to do. But soothing yourself, whether through comforting food or holding yourself, whilst often demonised can actually be very comforting. If there were ever a time to be kind to yourself, it is now.
I hope that, wherever you are in your relationship with your body, you thank it for getting you through this time. We expect so much from ourselves, yet fail to see how much our bodies truly do for us. Now that the world is opening up again, and the sun is shining, your body deserves to feel the sun, to be loved, and fed. This is a fact that will never not be true, and has never been truer, than at this moment in time.

Illustrations by Robin Ireland
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