Self-Love in the time of COVID

Spandana Datta

Why it’s A good IDEA to say no to pandemic pressures 

The first four months of 2020 have been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. With the outbreak of a highly contagious virus, life has come to a standstill. An extensive lockdown, social distancing, and self-isolation has changed our perception of normalcy and has compelled us to rethink our lifestyle. 

COVID-19, widely known as “coronavirus”, has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). COVID-19 has affected people from all walks of life. These months in an exhausting, intercontinental lockdown have proven to be a challenging period for many and have affected people deeply, especially impacting those who struggle with mental health issues like depression, dementia, and eating disorders.

“A state of complete lockdown has left people unemployed, working from home, homeschooling their children or appearing for examinations, all within the four walls of their home”

The purpose of the lockdown is to isolate oneself from society to prevent the spread of this life-threatening disease. A state of complete lockdown has left people unemployed, working from home, homeschooling, appearing for examinations, all within the four walls of their home. Consequently, according to the WHO, this isolation could be a major trigger for people facing various mental health issues like anxiety, depression, loneliness, etc. Staying at home has disrupted our daily lives and for some of us, it has resulted in a severe lack of exercise and bad food choices. This has caused people to fixate on their bodies and hence, body image issues have come to the forefront. 

Humans have struggled with body image issues for the longest time. Even before the onset of social media, advertisements in newspapers and magazines established “ideal body standards” that are influenced by patriarchal norms, for both men and women. Today television and social media play a pivotal role in brainwashing young minds about perfect bodies and trigger body image issues, in the process. Although body positivity activism is at an all-time high, fat-shaming memes, jokes, and workout videos are triggers for people affected by body image disorders and cause small yet impactful setbacks in their healing process.

Actions reflecting sizeism, fatphobia, and body shaming are never pardonable, but society preaches otherwise. Even as children, humans are pressurized by society to look a certain way. Young minds are influenced by doltish notions. They’re led to believe that with a perfect body, flawless skin, and a pearly white smile, one can thrive.

“Diet culture is dominant in today’s society, and unabashedly promotes a lifestyle of fad diets and extreme exercising”

Diet culture is dominant in today’s society, and unabashedly promotes a lifestyle of fad diets and extreme exercising. Diet culture follows a school of thought that one can live a happy life only if they look a certain way. This leads to the belief that physical well being can lead to the fulfillment of emotional needs, a mindset that fails to address the complexity of underlying unresolved traumas.

Nonetheless, it is important to keep up a healthy lifestyle to flourish. Working out every day can have brain changing effects. Exercise is a powerful tool that helps people manage mental health issues by relieving stress, improving memory, boosting your self-esteem, and your overall mood.

According to a study done by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, it was found that running for fifteen minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%. One does not have to become a fitness freak to reap the benefits of exercise. A recent study in the UK found that people who workout once or twice during the weekend, experience almost as many health benefits as those who work out more often.

We often tend to generalise our perception of body image as simply loving or hating our bodies. Body image can be influenced by bouts of low self-esteem which can vary in severity that influences our perception of our bodies. Body image issues stem from childhood and the environment one has grown up in.  

“Eating disorders, just like body image issues, stem in individuals who were regularly subjected to extreme scrutiny and considered unworthy as they did not fit into an ideal body type, promulgated by society, primarily patriarchy”

Research shows that people raised in a healthy home environment are less receptive to body image issues than people who were bullied by peers and family members. Body image issues and eating disorders tend to coincide. Eating disorders, just like body image issues, stem in individuals who were regularly subjected to extreme scrutiny and considered unworthy as they did not fit into an ideal body type, promulgated by society, primarily patriarchy.

Eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia, and Body Dysmorphic Disorder affect both men and women, widely across the globe. It has also been found that people who are high achievers and have personality traits like perfectionism and self-criticism are highly susceptible to body image issues. Still, many psychologists have seen a development of body image issues in those individuals who have never had them, during the lockdown. 

Dr. Heather Widdows, PhD., talks about peaking body image issues during the global lockdown. Self-isolation makes one fixate on unresolved traumas which cause negative thoughts, hence manifesting into such mentally exhausting situations. How can one tell if they are struggling with a body image issue? Some signs include extreme self-scrutiny, comparing one’s body (e.g. waist measurements) with peers or family members and extreme envy while comparing or seeing someone with a better body than yours.

Celebrities, just like us, are doing their bit to flatten the curve. Many have used this time to create awareness and talk about mental health issues that people are battling, across the globe. Recently, famous pop singers, Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato used social media as a platform to talk about their struggles with body image issues and how to deal with them during the lockdown. The duo hosted a live session for their followers on Instagram, discussing how social isolation may cause the return of such negative thoughts and how one can deal with them. The “Sorry Not Sorry” singer believes that anyone who has dealt with body image issues and is alone at home with mirrors, must not get consumed in any kind of negative self-talk. 

Pop sensation and body positivity activist, Lizzo preaches self-love fiercely. She recently shared a post on Instagram talking about how self-hatred and negative thoughts can creep up on anyone during the quarantine period and how celebrities are no exception. But the “Good as Hell” singer bossed up and told herself that she’s “110% that bitch”!  

Social isolation may disturb your mental and emotional equilibrium but practicing self-compassion and inculcating new hobbies are some ways to help you combat negative thoughts about yourself. Though challenging, strive to embrace the uncertainty and make the best of these unpredictable times. 

Spandana is an English literature graduate who loves writing, whiskey and aspires to rebel against prevailing conventions, one day at a time.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala