By Helena Kim, Graphics Editor
With a growing number of comments on home workout videos advocating “improving” body image during quarantine and joking about “Quarantine 15” — a twist on the “Freshman 15” that refers to weight gain while in isolation — it’s become increasingly apparent that our culture is deeply concerned with our bodies’ appearances, even despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For many, daily routines have all but disappeared, leaving them with disrupted eating patterns and sabotaged self-image.
According to social media analytics reviewed by Obviously, Instagram campaigns have seen a 76% increase in the number of daily likes on ads. Similarly, TikTok has seen levels of engagement increase by over 27% from February to March. With people exposing themselves to more social media while stuck at home, it is easier to fall into the mindset of the dominant culture, otherwise known as “diet culture”: the perception that thin bodies are the most desirable, healthy, and valuable. This thought process can be exacerbated by increased social media exposure as people fall into the trap of measuring personal worth by comparing their own bodies to the “ideal” body types they see online.
Some may question the impact of body image comparison on mental health; unfortunately, however, body image is a topic that cannot be ignored when addressing mental health. Based on a report released by Kids Help Phone for the month of May, “in Ontario, eating and body image have dominated 67% of conversations, especially among younger texters.” The obsession outlined by this statistic draws a clear connection between mental health and body image, especially during quarantine.
During social isolation, it is hard to ignore the truth that people may eat more, gain weight, and lose their exercise routines; after all, food is often a reliable source of comfort and relaxation during times of instability. Although over-eating and limited exercise can impose health risks, it is also important to understand that healthy eating and blocking out time to exercise are privileges that not everyone can afford to take advantage of during these times.
As people have more time to browse through various social media platforms and it gets easier to find users with whom we can compare ourselves, jokes about “Quarantine 15” or other common variants simply progress feelings of shame, stigma, and isolation. Although these jokes may be circulated to promote a sense of connection and inclusivity, it is necessary to recognize that the message behind the posts is often misinterpreted, leaving negative repercussions: increased concern about weight and body image often lead people to feel inadequate and out of control. These feelings can further push individuals toward unhealthy behaviors such as eating disorders.
Body image is a topic that has been addressed repeatedly as society has gradually begun to accept various body types as healthy and beautiful. This progressive push, however, is still not enough to eliminate the toxic correlation that society has set between skinny bodies and self-worth. As quarantine continues, it is imperative that social media users are more mindful about online posts and their impacts on followers’ mental health worldwide.