As a woman, I have felt obligated to uphold patriarchal beauty standards my entire life. Women grow up viewing their body as some kind of currency, or property. You can either buy a man with your body, or give yourself over as if you were an object. My body was a metaphorical battlefield between its natural curves and lines and the patriarchal beauty standards of a flat stomach and big bum that I wanted to have. The pandemic brought everything to a standstill. When you’re alone with your internal monologue, it can be as cruel to you as the world around you has been. Lockdown provided the space for my internal monologue to be the meanest it ever had been.
I have struggled with my body image for as long as I can remember, but the distractions of the outside world contained these battles. However, when I was faced with these battles without distraction during the pandemic, I was forced to fight them. Throughout the initial lockdown period, I felt bombarded by toxic diet culture ads that have plagued me, and many others. Diet culture has historically targeted women; the need to ascertain a certain body type and image for the sake of being a fantastical idyll, has long been embedded into women’s beauty standards. These same beauty standards, I felt, were still up for debate even in a time of immense global suffering.
When the world shut down, the industry line was ‘there is no excuse’. It felt like there was no excuse not to uphold patriarchal beauty standards. There was no excuse not to uphold the standards I had been fighting my body for my entire life. Suddenly, the enforced isolation meant that I thought of nothing else. Every time I hadn’t gone to the gym or eaten a healthy meal was because I was too tired, or couldn’t be bothered to cook, the outside world’s trials and tribulations distracted me; whereas now, ‘I had no excuse’. This line was spiralling around my brain as I sat, ate pizza and drank wine just to get through the monotony of the day. I began to notice fluctuations in my weight, and focused on it so intensely whilst being bombarded with celebrities and diet gurus showing the world what they did with their day and how productive they were.
Once the majority of the world was set adrift from the same notion of ‘productivity’ of getting up, going to work/school, coming home and sleeping, the world view on what could be done in those same 24 hour hours became almost competition like; it became a competition I too succumbed to. I took up every fitness trend that was translated onto social media; I began focusing intensely on what I was putting into my body with what was still available at the supermarkets, and even did the infamous ‘run 5k to raise money for the NHS’. Fitness gave a new sense of identity and purpose, as it developed a routine and newfound meaning to each day. However, the purpose of it was (and still is) two fold: it meant I could become healthier and develop better behaviours around food and exercise, but it may have been because of the trending examples of productivity being cultivated through social media which is why I have a complicated relationship with any supposed ‘progress’ relating to my fitness.
Lockdown provided a lifestyle change for me, but the rather destructive narrative that invoked that change leaves me in a complicated relationship with my body – was I embarking on a fitness journey for my own health, or because ‘I had no excuse’?