By clara chemtov
Most teens can agree that COVID-19 has brought unexpected changes and challenges to our lives. With fewer activities and events, we’ve had to be creative and entertain ourselves in new ways. One aspect of quarantine that I’ve found particularly challenging, is the prevalence of diet culture in social media. As a teen in recovery from an eating disorder, I’m working toward accepting my body at its natural weight.
This becomes significantly more difficult when my Instagram feed is flooded with influencers promoting unsustainable workout routines, diet fads, and other unhealthy “wellness” trends to try in quarantine. With this also comes a surge of diet memes, many of which involve a fear of gaining the COVID-19. Since restrictions seem to be easing as summer approaches, there’s so much pressure to spend our time at home working on a “summer body” in time for crop-top season. Unfortunately, this gives us the idea that we can only be seen in a swimsuit if we have visible abs and a thigh gap. Just to clarify: a summer body is just a body during summertime. That’s it.
The general narrative seems to be that, even in the midst of a global pandemic, weight and body image are of primary concern. We’re being told that we’re lazy and unmotivated if we gain weight, but since when do our bodies indicate our productivity? We’re being told that we become less worthy if we gain weight, but since when do our bodies indicate our worth?
The body inclusivity movement has been making progress in terms of diversifying representation and loosening the moral value attached to weight, but there is still work to be done. When we’re faced with a difficult situation, we begin to notice where our values as a society truly seem to lie. In recent years, promoting weight loss has sometimes been masked by “wellness culture”, but during this pandemic, it’s become clear that thinness is still considered a necessary trait for worthiness.
Fortunately, though our society is heavily invested in diet culture, there are a few things we can all do as teens to limit the influence of this toxic messaging in our lives.
Clean Out Your Social Media
Influencers can often be seen promoting “cleanses” and “detoxes”, but the only place we should really be cleaning out is our social media. Each one of us is responsible for choosing the content that we consume, so the best way to reduce the impact of negative influences is to remove them from our feed. I’ve found this particularly difficult because some of the Instagrammers I initially followed as “fitspo” are still my idols (or my eating disorder’s idols, I should say), despite the unhealthy thoughts that they trigger in me. When I see those aesthetic skinny people eating low-calorie smoothie bowls in their pretty workout clothes, it makes me feel less worthy. It gives me the impression that I can’t be liked or loved unless I have that life. It ruins my day. As we know, social media allows us to show only a fraction of our real lives, so whatever we see is usually an unrealistic image. Even if we know this, though, it’s still easy to idolize these influencers because they receive such a warm reception from their fans, and we all like to feel that kind of validation sometimes, don’t we?
A few months ago, I finally decided to unfollow some of these accounts. During quarantine, I knew I would be spending more time on my phone, so I wanted to make it more enjoyable. Why should I devote hours of my week to content that makes me feel worse about myself? It was easier to identify the culprits than I initially thought. Every time I got that sticky feeling in my stomach (you know which one I mean), I knew that this was a person I could remove from my feed. It was amazing to see that just a few clicks made my online world a different place. I was suddenly seeing more content from my friends and family without being mentally assaulted by pictures of fat-free meal plans. I feel so much more emotionally safe knowing that I can scroll through images that won’t wreck my mood for hours at a time.
Whenever you get that feeling of inferiority from online content, I encourage you to try this. Delete. Unsubscribe. Unfollow. Unfriend. It really is that simple. If you’re worried about hurting someone’s feelings, don’t. Your mental health is far more important than someone else’s follower count.
Follow Positive Role Models
As I mentioned before, we’re in charge of our online environment. When I realized just how customizable my feed really is, I prioritized my wellbeing by carefully choosing who I should see. For every negative influence on social media, I’ve found a positive role model to take their place. It’s been comforting and empowering to see influencers who are promoting inclusivity, positivity, and health over body size.
I’ve diversified my Instagram by choosing influencers in different bodies, which has helped me see that “normal” really does come in all shapes and sizes. By reinforcing these positive messages, I’ve also been able to learn that body shape has absolutely nothing to do with moral value.
As an aspiring dancer and amateur model, I sometimes feel like I’ll never be successful because I don’t look like most famous dancers. When I started following more diverse pages, though, I realized that I just wasn’t searching in the right places. There is room for everyone, regardless of physical appearance, because the main contributor to success is hard work. If you ever feel stuck in this kind of mindset, I would definitely suggest switching up your influencers. Some of my favourite body positivity accounts are @thebodylovesociety, @dronme, @talyngracee, @bodyuprogram, and @aneutrallife. Whether or not these people are right for you, what’s important is to find that content that lifts you up rather than tears you down.
Find Self-Care Practices That You Enjoy
My final tip is probably the most difficult. It is for me, anyway. I’m always worried about being selfish or inconsiderate if I make time for myself, but this couldn’t be less true. There is absolutely nothing wrong with investing time and energy into ourselves. Finding self-care practices that boost our wellbeing is always important, but it becomes essential during a crisis. We can’t possibly be our best selves and take care of other people if we don’t first take care of ourselves. It’s also an excellent way to step away from the onslaught of negativity that can be presented to us, whether from diet culture as in my case, or from any other source.
Because of diet culture prevalence during this pandemic, I’ve found that, as someone struggling with my body right now, self-care unrelated to food and exercise is a golden ray of sunshine. That’s not for everyone, but I know it’s true for me. I’ve always grappled with the idea of self-care because it’s a bit of a buzz-word and I thought it meant soaking in a bubble bath with scented candles. I didn’t realize that it means something different for everyone. All it entails is taking a bit of “me time” and doing something that’s just for us. My self-care is usually oriented toward art. I enjoy dancing and making music because it improves my mood and I don’t have to worry about over-performing or impressing anyone. I also love reading outside, especially as the weather gets nicer. Jumping into a story with the warm sun shining down gives me an irreplaceable sense of calm. Some people might get the same results from exercising, journaling, meditating, gaming, or sleeping. Anything goes.
Whatever our practices may be, it’s important to find what works best for us. All it takes is setting aside a few minutes every day where we allow ourselves to focus on something that serves us and makes us happy. This is definitely easier said than done. If you’re like me, you might also struggle with feeling unproductive when investing in yourself. What I’ve come to see, however, is that self-care is just another type of productivity. Instead of working hard to finish projects, complete chores, and create masterpieces, we’re working hard to honour ourselves. We deserve that kind of self-love because we are masterpieces. Investing in ourselves means investing in an amazing piece of work.
However we deal with diet culture in the media, it’s important to remember that what we see doesn’t have to be what we think. We are in charge of our space and our actions, and we are free to live according to our own values, no matter what people say. If there’s one last piece of insight that I’ve found the most helpful, it’s that no one is alone in this. It can feel really isolating to have to face this amount of media pressure without the distraction of normal activities. This can leave us feeling like we have to deal with these experiences on our own, but it’s crucial to remember that there are so many other teens who are going through the same challenges, and that there are always people to whom we can reach out if we need help or simply want to talk. It might be scary to address these kinds of feelings, but sometimes, opening up to a friend can be a major source of comfort, because, whether or not they have the same experience, they will be there to support you as much as possible and help you through this difficult time.