I walked past my local GP clinic and stopped cold. Did I imagine it? Stepping back a few paces, I could see it clearly, written in bold letters, positioned on the highway for all to see: “Lockdown bulge? Call now!”
I might have expected this from my local gym trying to score new members upon reopening. But from my doctor? 2020 just reached a new low. By now you’ve probably seen the familiar photoshopped picture of Barbie placed next to her usual thin image stating “Me before quarantine/me after.” Then there’s hashtags like “#quarantine15” in place of the US expression “#freshman15” which refers to the 15 pounds (seven kilograms) university students are said to gain during their first year living on campus.
As someone who suffered from anorexia nervosa for the better part of a decade, I’m intimately acquainted with how harmful these messages of body hatred can be. Spurred on by what I saw on my own social media feeds, I discovered firsthand how extreme calorie restriction and over-exercise can impact your health. My obsession with weight management saw me lose my period, my eyebrows and my energy to write. It left me with an autoimmune disease and ongoing gastrointestinal issues.
Now, in the throes of war against a new and terrifying virus, what seems to unite us in humour and in fear, is a pervasive rhetoric about COVID-19 weight gain. Online fitness personalities are capitalising on this dread to sell online subscriptions. Diet and weight loss companies use it to rally customers to reclaim their “normal” life with slogans declaring, “Use this downtime to shift your last 5kg”. An extra-terrestrial, observing our culture through the lens of Instagram, could be forgiven for thinking that COVID-19 was a disease that made you fat, rather than ravaged your lungs.