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Stop Trying to Fit Into Society’s Impossible Body Image Standards (Especially During Quarantine)

By: Lauren Kim


I wistfully stared at the cookie in front of me. I groan. It’s so close.

Standing in front of my kitchen counter, I pondered the long, treacherous miles I would have to run in order to burn the cookie off. Nonetheless, the desire was too strong. Forget it, I’ll start eating healthy tomorrow, I vowed.

That was yesterday.

Since the lockdown, many teenagers, including myself, have been struggling to control their eating habits and weight, especially when it comes to body image. I conducted a poll asking adolescents if self isolation caused them to have body image issues— 67 percent answered yes. Honestly, the answer wasn’t too surprising: I knew from experience that loneliness could cause people to question their self worth and lose love for themselves and their body.

But why? Normally (in times other than self-isolation due to COVID-19), body image issues develop due to societal pressure, mental scars from being bullied at a young age, and social media’s encouragement that only slim people could be considered “good-looking”. 

Unsurprisingly, those causes haven’t changed all that much during quarantine. Social media is still used to encourage the need to lose weight, gain muscle, and go on fad diets—popular diets that promise to lose weight quickly without actual science to back it up. Bullies from school have moved to social media platforms to tease and taunt one for their appearance or weight. The endless barrage of Instagram posts and Snapchat stories continue to portray what society considers “perfect”, an impossible ideal which can be too overwhelming at times. Many teens feel as if these posts are specifically displayed to remind them that their current selves aren't good enough. 

This feeling of being targeted causes real pain and suffering, leaving many teenagers devastated about their appearance. 

It’s important to remember, especially during these lonely times, that your looks do not define your worth. Many teenagers may turn to self-harm and other dangerous activities to cope with the pain; obese teenagers and kids are two to three times more likely to report experiencing suicidal ideation or self-harm. These trends shouldn’t vary due to weight, but unfortunately they do. This notion that only slim females or muscular males can be considered “good-looking” must come to an end. The damage it is causing to one’s mental and physical health is simply not worth it.

On top of society’s expectations being false and harmful, they are also misleading. Being large has gained such a negative reputation for itself, but is it necessarily unhealthy? Studies show that a person’s appearance certainly does not determine whether they are healthy or not. Many people with fatphobia (the fear and dislike of “fatter” people and the stigmatization towards them) often believe that bigger people inherently have high blood pressure, slow metabolism, and earlier mortality compared to their “slimmer” peers. These stereotypes aren’t applicable to all large people and differ depending on the person themselves. Indisputably, large people are capable of being metabolically healthy, sometimes more so than their slimmer counterparts. This isn’t to assume that every big person is healthy, but that everyone has such a capability. Most people imagine that “large” immediately means unhealthy, but the reality isn’t so. Listening to the science-based facts is always better than prejudicial opinions.

Unfortunately, after someone sinks into the quicksand of the mindset that their body isn’t enough, it’s incredibly difficult for them to dig themselves out. For many, achieving the goal of being thin is perceived as their only way to become truly happy. They might begin a healthy journey of losing weight, but if they aren’t careful, it can quickly spiral out of their hands, as many develop eating disorders while struggling to maintain a “typical” body image. However, not all teenagers who attempt to lose weight find themselves stuck with this mentality, many achieving real success—they reach their goal of becoming healthier without complications.

  Many fatphobic people may tell you not to snack or eat junk food, but it’s not that easy for most. Lots of times people eat more due to stress and boredom, and it has become their coping mechanism. Although eating too much of something is never alright, snacking when you’re craving a little sugar is somewhat healthier for your mental health. Eating food and energizing your body signals the brain to release dopamine, a neurochemical that makes you feel good. This doesn’t mean you should eat whenever you feel like it; just try not to be harsh on yourself when it comes to snacking. 

Sadly, to the people already suffering, this might be hard to accept. They continue to keep themselves away from the food that makes them happy and—most importantly—energizes them. During quarantine, our daily outings such as walking to school, taking pets on walks, and playing sports become restricted. Most of us do these things out of joy, and they help us burn calories without actually thinking about it, keeping our bodies and minds considerably healthy. Without these small excursions throughout our day, our bodies have transformed into less-than-optimal machines. We all have, without a doubt, become lazier than we once were, resulting in weight gain and less productivity.  

Even though it's become more difficult to stay in shape (especially with all the self-isolation restrictions), that doesn’t mean you have to give up on any healthy aspirations for your body! With a little motivation and the right mindset, we can all help ourselves stay in shape or, simply, not gain those few extra pounds. There are many online workout tutorials on YouTube and, if you can maintain safety, there’s also the option of going outdoors on a light jog or walk. However, let it be clear that safety needs to be your top priority. Make sure to avoid other people and high traffic areas while outdoors in order to protect yourself and anyone around you. If this isn’t possible, wearing a mask should be your next step. Running would also be a possible idea, though, again, it isn’t recommended if you can’t adhere to social distancing guidelines or wear a mask during high-intensity aerobic exercise. For the people who have backyards or a space to run around, playing sports or even tossing a football around with a family member is a great way to stay active. Just make sure you’re in a controlled and safe environment. 

If you wish to change your body for any reason, remember to always do it for yourself and no one else. Be confident, love yourself, and don’t be afraid to eat that cookie just because you’re worried about gaining a little weight. There is no perfect way to handle the type of situation we are all in, but you can always devote time and effort to your mental health and well-being. 


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Sources


Department of Health & Human Services. “Body Image - Women.” Better Health Channel

Department of Health & Human Services, 31 May 2014, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/body-image-women#:~:text=Causes%20of%20negative%20body%20image,-Some%20of%20the&text=being%20teased%20about%20appearance%20in,and%20compare%20themselves%20with%20others.


Dibdin, Emma. “Running With a Mask Is Hard, But Can It Improve My Performance?” Runner's World, 6 May 2020, www.runnersworld.com/training/a32380203/running-with-mask-impact-your-performance


“The Effects of Weight-Related Bullying.” Nationwide Children's Hospital, www.nationwidechildrens.org/family-resources-education/700childrens/2015/05/the-effects-of-weight-related-bullying.


Julson, Erica. “10 Best Ways to Increase Dopamine Levels Naturally.” Healthline, Healthline Media, www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-increase-dopamine#section3.


Spritzler, Franziska.  “Is Snacking Good or Bad for You?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 19 June 2019, www.healthline.com/nutrition/snacking-good-or-bad.


The Swaddle. “All The Arguments You Need: to Prove Fat Isn't Necessarily Unhealthy.” The Swaddle, 15 Jan. 2020, theswaddle.com/all-the-arguments-you-need-to-prove-fat-isnt-necessarily-unhealthy/.


Wilksch, Simon M., et al. “The Relationship between Social Media Use and Disordered Eating in Young Adolescents.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 3 Dec. 2019, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/eat.23198.





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