I have been speaking to a lot of people lately who are nervous about going back to crowded places. And not because they're frightened of the crowds, but because they're frightened of being judged for the changes in their bodies over lockdown. Fatphobia is so ingrained in our culture that there is a huge number of people who are able to dismiss the fact that their bodies just survived a global pandemic. And in fact, where people are worried about whether that old pair of jeans will still fit them anymore.
How have we got to the point where we are able to completely overlook the miracle, that though that we actually survived because of anxiety about how we look? Well, it's important to remember that it's pretty natural at a pretty natural response to being bombarded day in day out with advertising messaging and photos which scream that you can only have a happy life if you have a size zero waistline. (see also: White CIS, het, able-bodied… the list goes on). Companies spend billions everyday trying to teach us that we are imperfect, need to be fixed, and then we absolutely must buy their solution to make us lovable (see also: accepted and safe).
When you look at this Goliath we are up against, any second that you do not feel like scum, you have won. And I believe that this is where we start to heal from. If we can notice what we're up against, we can start to see that we're having a human reaction to being attacked. That we're trying to protect ourselves because there is a lizard part of your brain that equates negativity and threats of rejection with death. When we were in caves, that was quite literally what it meant. There is a part of your brain that doesn't know the difference between “that meal you enjoy is going to put cellulite on your thighs, says the advert”. And the “bears are coming to eat you”. That fear of rejection which used to keep us alive keeps shouting at us to be alert to danger, long after the bears have gone.
So, rather than adding to the pain by berating yourself for having human responses to human things, maybe you could get curious about what life might look like if you were allowed yourself a little grace. I find when I politicise it, body image shifts things from feeling indulgent to feeling essential. What if believing you had a right to take up space meant that someone who looks a bit like you also was able to feel welcome? Because that's very likely to be true. What if you made the decision that you were going to use this pandemic as a life changer, and that treating yourself unkindly was something that you left in the before times. Because of all of the things that we wanted to change when we went back to “normal”, we really have to start with ourselves. The truth is, the more kindness with which you treat your body, the more kindness there is in the world. What if you are part of a surge which embedded that all bodies truly were welcome ? What if you pushed against the narrative that people’s BMI equated to their value? What if you were someone who lived the truth that every body is welcome here? Surely then our role in being seen and being present in the skin that we are in is an essential part of creating and normalising and humanising people of all shapes and sizes.
We have a role to play in creating a more kind world. And the reality is that this has to start with how you speak to yourself in the mirror, how you talk about and to your body. So let's commit to kindness and humanity. And by vowing to do so, we can start to imagine and build a world that is more soft and gentle to us all.